Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Rehabilitation Education (PhD)

Degree Level



Rehabilitation, Human Resources and Communication Disorders


Brent T. Williams

Committee Member

Lynn Koch

Second Committee Member

Keith Vire

Third Committee Member

Stephanie Lusk


Disability, Phenomenological, Return to Work, Social Security


The purpose of the present study is to investigate the essence of the experience of individuals who were denied Social Security Disability benefits and who sought the appeals process. In the first round, five semi-structured face-to-face interviews allow the participants to share their thoughts, feelings, and actions taken and, if any, what life changes occurred during the appeals process. Data analysis using phenomenological methods create textural-structural descriptions from which, in a second interview, applicants choose to confirm, edit, or add to their analyzed interviews. The findings present as seven major themes that describes the phenomenon. They are: (a) procedural unfairness and inefficiencies; (b) losses and changes (c) independence versus dependence; (d) emotional (e) mental effect (f) self-advocacy; and (g) recommendations. These findings describe the experiences of individuals denied social security disability benefits and while seeking appeal. Implications for best practices for rehabilitation counselors and those who provide mental health counseling as well as procedures for the state vocational rehabilitation agencies and the Social Security Administration are presented. Policy and legislative recommendations are outlined as avenues for future research to promote fair disability procedures, financial recovery, independence, and emotional health.