Those applying for disability in Alabama who have their initial application denied now have another step to go through before a judge can review their case.
The reconsideration level of the disability appeals process has been a part of the Social Security Administration's national disability process since 1959, but it was removed from 10 states in 1999 — including Alabama. On Tuesday, the step was reinstated.
"Reinstating the reconsideration appeal in Alabama will help improve the disability process," said Rose Mary Buehler, SSA regional commissioner.
Before the reinstatement, disability applicants would have their claim examined by someone with Alabama Disability Determination Services. If the claim was denied, the decision could be appealed, which meant waiting for a hearing before an administrative law judge.
Mitch Shelly, an Athens attorney who handles Social Security cases, said Alabama was part of a pilot program to improve the disability process and developed a "pretty good" system compared to other states.
"If you look at how long it takes to get a decision and get a hearing, we've been pretty good," Shelly said.
Going forward, the process will have an extra layer that brings it back in line with the rest of the country. In the reconsideration step, claims that are appealed after a denial will be sent back to the DDS office to be reconsidered by a different examiner.
Buehler believes this step could allow people to get approved faster, which the SSA said would lead to lower administrative cost to taxpayers.
"Some people appealing an initial disability claim decision will receive an allowance decision earlier in the process than they would if their appeal went directly to a judge at the hearings level," she said.
Shelly said the reinstated step also provides a second chance for information that may have been missed the first time.
"There might be some instances where the claimant didn't give all of their medical history correctly or the disability (office) didn't request all the records," Shelly said.
Reconsideration is required before a denied claim can be heard before an ALJ. If it is reconsidered and denied again, then it can be appealed for a hearing. Shelly explained that if it is denied a third time, individuals can appeal for a hearing with the appeals council, then the federal court system.
Anyone seeking assistance or representation in their disability process can contact the attorneys at Alexander, Corder & Shelly PC by calling 256-232-1130 or visiting their office at 215 S. Jefferson St., Athens. Visit https://bit.ly/DisabilitySSA for more information about the disability process.