I have helped hundreds of people in Washington and Oregon with their Social Security Disability claims. In Oregon, like many other states, a Social Security Disability claim involves a lot of paper work, and several levels of appeal. Here is a basic breakdown.
The first step is the application. Many Social Security claimants will contact their Local Branch Office to set up an appointment to apply for benefits. Oregon has several branch offices throughout the state, and the Social Security web site can help you find the office closest to your home. Just go to the site, and type in your zip code.
If you live in Oregon, Social Security will send the file to Oregon's Disability Determination Services (also called "DDS"). This agency obtains medical records, sends forms for you and family members to fill out, and has doctors and other experts review the file to see if you meet the requirements for disability. DDS may even set up an appointment for you with one of its doctors to obtain an opinion on your medical condition.
If the DDS finds that you are not disabled, then Social Security will deny your application. You will receive a denial letter, and this is why you need to keep Social Security updated on your current address. You have sixty days to appeal this decision by filing a "request for reconsideration." After you make this appeal, DDS should obtain updated records, and it may even send you to see a doctor. DDS then looks at your file as if it were the first application, and decides whether the initial decision was correct. I have seen statistics showing that only one third of all reconsideration requests are granted.
If your request for reconsideration is denied, you can then request a hearing. This is usually the part of the case where I will get involved. Like the initial denial appeal, you have only sixty days to request a hearing. After the request for hearing, the file is sent to the nearest Social Security Office of Disability Appeals and Review, also called "ODAR" This is the hearings office. Our closest ODAR office is in Portland. Currently, Claimants are waiting almost two years on average for a hearing date. At any time prior to the hearing, or even after the hearing, you can submit new evidence for the Judge's review. When a hearing is scheduled, you can testify and present other evidence to an Administrative Law Judge, who then makes a decision on your case.
After the hearing, the Judge will issue a "Decision." It is either "Unfavorable" (you lose), or "Fully Favorable" (you won). Sometimes, you may receive a "Partially Favorable Decision" (you won on some issues, but lost on others). Like the prior decisions, this one can be appealed. You must file the appeal within sixty days with the Appeals Council.
The Appeals Council reviews all of the evidence in your case, including your testimony, to see if the Judge properly reviewed the evidence, and followed the law in making a decision on your case. I have written several briefs to the Appeals Council, and often, we are able to get the case sent back to the Judge for another hearing.
Even if you do not win at the Appeals Council, you have a right to file the matter in the United States District Court. This is the federal court. Our office does not handle federal court cases, but we work closely with attorneys who limit their practice to fighting these cases in federal court.