My clients often have questions about the disability claim process. So here is a description of the claim process in Maine and New Hampshire from start to finish.
A Social Security disability claim may be filed in person at the nearest Social Security office, online, or by telephone. The location of every Social Security office in Maine is here (the same information for New Hampshire is here).
What happens after your Social Security claim is filed?
1. The Social Security Administration sends your case to a state agency – Disability Determination Services – to gather additional information and to make an initial determination on your claim. In Maine, the agency is located in Augusta; in New Hampshire, the office is in Concord.
2. The case is assigned to an adjudicator. The adjudicator should obtain all of your medical records, and also may arrange to have you seen by an independent medical examiner. The adjudicator may send you forms to complete. Accurate completion of the "Disability Report" and the "Work History Report" at this early stage is crucial to the proper development of the issues in your disability claim.
3. If your initial claim is denied, your next step depends upon the state you live in.
a. In Maine, a Request for Reconsideration must be filed. The Reconsideration is sent back to the same state agency, but given to a different adjudicator. If the Reconsideration is denied, a Request for Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge is then filed.
b. In New Hampshire, you need to file a Request for Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. New Hampshire does not use the Reconsideration level of review. Rather, your claim proceeds directly from the denial of your initial claim to the ALJ level.
The adminstrative hearings are usually conducted in Portland for Maine residents and Manchester for New Hampshire residents. Your hearing will be before an Administrative Law Judge, who is independent from those at the Social Security Administration who have previously considered your claim for disability benefits. You must be present at the hearing, and your attorney will also be there. Sometimes a vocational expert or medical advisor is asked by the ALJ to testify regarding the vocational and medical aspects of your claim.
The Administrative Law Judge will issue a written decision in your case. If the claim is granted, you will receive benefits shortly. If your claim is denied, a further request for review may be taken to the Appeals Council. If the Appeals Council denies your request for review, the case may be appealed to the United States district court.
At all levels of the Social Security claim process, the deadline for submitting an appeal is 60 days from the date the notice has been received. The Social Security Administration will assume that the notice was received within five days from the date appearing on the notice. An appeal may be accepted after 65 days from the denial date only if good cause is demonstrated.