What Are My Chances of Winning a Disability Claim?

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“What are the odds of winning my disability claim?” is a question I am often asked.

My response is always, “It depends.” I recognize that this answer is not helpful, but it does depend on a lot of factors.

The table below shows the averages and do not necessarily represent your individual odds of winning at each level of the disability determination process.

Chances of Winning Disability Claim in 2021

LevelApproval Rate
Appeals Council1% approved. 9% sent back to hearing level ALJ
Federal Appeal2% approved. 50% sent back to hearing level ALJ

FAQ for Chances of Winning Disability Claim

What Are My Chances of Winning A Disability Claim?

In 2021, the approval rates for disability claims were approximately 35% at the Initial level, 15% at the Reconsideration level, 47% at the Hearing level, and 2% at the Federal Appeal level. Additionally, at the Appeals Council, only 1% of cases were approved, and 9% were sent back to the Hearing level ALJ, while at the Federal Appeal level, 2% were approved, and 50% were sent back to the Hearing level ALJ.

What are my chances of winning a disability claim?

The response is always, “It depends.” The table linked here shows the average chance of winning a disability claim at each level of the process.

What are my chances of winning a disability claim at the initial level?

The initial level is the first level of the Social Security Disability and/or Supplemental Security Income decision-making process.

Generally speaking, 35% of applicants are awarded at this level. 

Typically, applicants that are awarded at this level meet a disability listing and are so obviously disabled that there is no question as to whether or not they are capable of performing work.

What are my chances of winning a disability claim at the reconsideration level?

The next level in the disability determination process is the reconsideration level.

On average 15% of all applicants win at this level.

In our practice, it seems like the vast majority of claimants who win at this level are those that were not represented by an attorney at the initial level, but hired one for reconsideration. We believe that this difference exists because something was missing from their initial application and an unrepresented claimant did not know about the omission. Usually, represented claimants are denied at this level as well because not much has changed from the time the initial determination and the reconsideration determination. As a result, the DDS examiner usually has the same set of facts at both of these pre-hearing levels and will end up making the same decision twice.

What are my chances of winning a disability hearing?

Claimants that are denied at the pre-hearing level have an opportunity to appeal those decisions and request a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). After a successful appeal, a claimant’s file will be transitioned from the DDS to the Office of Hearings Operations (“OHO”). This will be a claimant’s first opportunity to present their case in person.

Social Security statistics prove this is the most favorable level of review as nearly 50% of all applicants are awarded at this level. It gets even better for those that are represented at the hearing as those claimants, according to the GAO, have a 3 times greater chance of winning their claim than those that are not represented.

What are my chances of winning a disability appeal?

There are two types of disability appeals: Appeals Council Repeal and Federal Appeal

Appeals Council Repeal
Claimants are awarded approximately 1% of the time at this level.

An additional 9% of claimants have their case remanded (sent back) to the original ALJ who made the hearing level denial. These remands may be for further development on a particular issue or to correct a procedural error made in the hearing level decision. Generally speaking, judges do not like to have another judge tell them that they made a mistake. Hearing level ALJs will often just re-deny appeals council remands. As a result, having your claim remanded is not always the best result. The goal at this level is often to get denied, which allows a claimant to appeal in federal court.

Federal Appeal

At this level, you are suing the Social Security Administration in Federal Court.  The odds of winning at this level are approximately 2%, which is hardly better than at the Appeals Council.  Federal judges; however, remand (send back) approximately half of these claims for a further evaluation of issues that were improperly considered at the prior hearing.

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March 30, 2021

Written by TC Newlin

TC is a disability litigator and one of the managing partners in the Social Security Disability Department at Fleschner, Stark, Tanoos & Newlin. He has had the pleasure of helping thousands of people obtain the benefits they so desperately need.

1 Comment

  1. James M.

    My wrists are damaged , they dont bend
    My right arm doesn’t raise above chest high my doctor says I am disable. Do I qualify?


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