When I meet a new client, I often learn that the client had filed a previous Social Security disability or SSI claim that was denied, but not ever appealed. It happens quite a bit. Depending of the timing, that previous claim can often be reopened. When a claim is reopened, it is like it was appealed in the first place and remains pending.
Reopening is governed by 20 C.F.R. 404.988.
A denied claim may be reopened within 12 months for any reason. The 12 month period runs from the date of the initial denial of the prior claim.
If there is good cause, a prior disability claim can be reopened within 4 years. An SSI claim can be reopened within 2 years for good cause. In most cases, "new and material" evidence is the basis for a finding of good cause.
Let's look at an example of reopening.
This claimant filed a disability claim in May of 2007. That claim was denied in July of 2007, and the claimant did not appeal.
The claimant filed a new claim in March of 2008. Since the subsequent claim was filed within 12 months of the initial denial of the prior claim, the prior claim may be reopened for any reason under 20 C.F.R. 404.988(a).
As a practical matter, this will mean an additional 10 months of retroactive benefits once the claim is granted. At a PIA of $985, that is an additional $9,850 for the claimant.
Claims are not reopened automatically. You have to request reopening. An experienced Social Security disability lawyer knows to ask about the existence of a prior claim and to seek reopening of the prior claim.