Only about one-third of Social Security disability claims are approved at the initial level. Read the denial notice you receive from Social Security carefully — it will tell you what you need to do. Generally, here are the next steps to take:

1) File an appeal right away!

If you are denied benefits at the initial level, you should appeal as soon as possible (within 60 days of the date on the denial notice). In most states, you do this by filing a special form called a Request for Reconsideration.

2) Request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)

In the Reconsideration phase, your claim will be reviewed a second time. If you are denied at this phase, you must file a request for an ALJ hearing to appeal.

Learn more about Social Security hearings.

3) Request review by the Appeals Council

If your claim is denied at the ALJ hearing stage, you have the right to appeal to Social Security’s Appeals Council. The Appeals Council reviews hearing decisions, and has the power to “remand” or send cases back to judges when they make mistakes. It also reverses decisions in a small share of cases. It can take about a year to get a decision from the Appeals Council.

If your claim is still denied at this level, you can file an appeal in Federal Court.

4) Get help!

You have the right to representation. Consider getting help from a Social Security disability attorney or representative — the sooner the better.