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Those who decide on disability applications

When an Indiana resident files for Social Security disability benefits, they may wonder who is responsible for making the decision about their application. The person responsible for determining whether a claim will be approved varies depending on the level of the process involved. People who first apply for benefits enter at the initial disability claim level. If the initial claim is denied, the applicant can then move on to a reconsideration appeal and a hearing before an administrative law judge. After that level, one can still appeal to the Appeal Council and then to a federal district court.

At the level of an initial claim and the reconsideration appeal, a decision about Social Security benefits would be made by a team. The case is assigned to a disability examiner who gathers medical evidence and makes a determination. While some cases are decided by the examiner alone, others involve consultations with staff medical doctors and psychologists. Unit managers may also get involved in urging staff to approve fewer applications.

Once an application reaches a disability hearing, the decision would be handled by the administrative law judge overseeing the case. The judge would rely on evidence presented as well as medical or vocational experts to reach a determination about eligibility for benefits. Beyond the level of a disability hearing, the Appeals Council could review the initial judge's decision. In most cases, appeals are either denied or sent back to the original judge for a second hearing. While very few disability applications reach this level, the next step would involve a decision made by a federal judge.

An attorney familiar with the laws around Social Security benefits could help an applicant navigate the system. Those who work with representatives are significantly more likely to have their applications approved, especially at the disability hearing level.

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