Reapplying for Social Security Disability Benefits

If you keep applying for disability benefits and keep getting denied, consider the following strategies to improve your chances.

By , Attorney Seattle University School of Law
Updated 6/06/2024

Not all first-time Social Security disability claimants are successful, even if they've exhausted all of their appeal options. It's common to receive at least one denial (typically at the initial or reconsideration stages) on your application, but many claimants decline to pursue their application past an unfavorable Appeals Council determination.

If you've taken your disability application as far as it can go without the desired results, you can reapply by filing a new claim for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.

Should I Reapply If I Was Denied Social Security Disability for the 2nd Time?

It depends what you mean by "denial." If you're on your first application for benefits but received a second denial after reconsideration review, you're in "good" company—the majority of successful disability claimants only get benefits after they've had a hearing with an administrative law judge. In this case, you should appeal by requesting a hearing, where you have your best chance of a favorable outcome.

You'll need to appeal within 60 days of receiving your denial notice, however. (This goes for all stages of the disability appeals process.) If you miss that deadline and can't show good cause as to why you missed it, you can reapply and submit a new application.

Even if you're on your second application for benefits and received a denial after reconsideration review, it's still likely a good idea to request a hearing. In fact, because most disability claims that are ultimately approved are awarded following a hearing, it's generally smart to ask for one no matter how many times you've applied, with few exceptions.

How Many Times Can You Apply for Disability?

Technically, there is no limit to the number of disability applications you can file. It's not uncommon for successful claimants to have filed more than once. Many people apply without consulting a lawyer, miss the appeal deadline for one reason or another, or simply get discouraged after receiving a denial and abandon the claim.

But just because you can file more than once doesn't mean you should. It's generally better to see your claim through the entire appeals process rather than start over from the beginning every time you get a denial. This is because you stand to lose what could be a significant amount in past due benefits. For example, SSI back pay is calculated based on your application date, so each time you reapply, you bump up the earliest date that you could get disability for.

Furthermore, Social Security generally likes to see that you're applying for disability as a "last resort." If you have multiple applications that never progress past the initial level, the agency may unfairly assume that you're not serious about your inability to work.

When Can I Reapply for Disability?

You can reapply for disability benefits at any time as long as you don't have another claim open. (Social Security used to allow you to file a new application while the Appeals Council was reviewing your claim, but that's no longer an option.) Social Security will close your claim after 60 days have passed without filing an appeal or if you voluntarily withdraw your application.

Once you don't have any open claims, the decision of when to reapply is mostly strategic. If you missed an appeal deadline but otherwise have a strong case, you may want to reapply as soon as possible to establish an early "protective filing date," which can affect your back pay. (Reapplying within 12 months also means that you can reopen your first claim for any reason.) If you've already had a disability hearing or been denied at the Appeals Council, you may want to hold off on reapplying until you can address the issues with your claim that resulted in an unfavorable decision.

Carefully review the last denial notice you received to see why Social Security didn't approve your claim. You can use that information to strengthen your claim when you reapply. For example, if your application was denied because it didn't contain enough medical information, gather your doctor's records together before you file again. Many claims are denied because they aren't "ripe," meaning not enough evidence exists yet to make a disability determination. Taking the time to get all of your ducks in a row can significantly increase the chances that your next application will be approved.

How to Reapply for Disability

You don't need to do anything special if you're applying for disability the second time. The procedure is the same as it was when you filed your first application. The only difference is that Social Security will have a record of your previous claim. If you need a refresher on the application process, see our article on filing a new application for SSDI and SSI.

Should I Get a Lawyer to Help Me Reapply?

It depends—but it couldn't hurt. If you're quick to apply a second time because you missed an appeals deadline early on in your first application, you might have a straightforward claim that doesn't require much in the way of legal assistance. But more complex cases will almost always benefit from legal advice.

You should consider getting an experienced disability attorney for your second application if one of the following scenarios apply:

  • you've had one or more unfavorable decisions from an administrative law judge or Appeals Council judge
  • you've already reapplied before (that is, this is at least your third time filing for benefits), or
  • you want to reopen a previous application that was closed over one year ago.

Most lawyers offer free consultations and can help you assess the pros and cons of reapplying for disability. You can also ask your potential representatives questions to establish whether they'll be a good fit for you and your case.

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