How long does it take to get Disability?

According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), there are 56 million Americans living with a disability. In most cases, those Americans living with a disability are substantially impacted not only physically, but also financially by their disability. Disabled Americans often struggle to earn enough money to support themselves or their family due to their severely limited work capacity. If you are currently disabled, unable to work or have a severely limited work capacity, applying for Social Security Disability benefits may be a great option to supplement the income that you’re struggling to earn.

The SSA has two different programs that provide benefits to disabled Americans: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Both programs supplement the income of individuals who are unable to work due to a medical disability. While medical eligibility for disability is determined in the same manner for both programs, the two programs are different and serve two distinct populations, with different financial eligibility requirements.

If you believe you may be eligible for Social Security Disability, there are a few things you should know prior to entering into the application process.

Disability timeline

Social Security Disability Application Process

The biggest complaint about the Social Security Disability application process pertains to the length of time in which it takes to be approved and receive benefits. There is a lot of confusion about the application and appeal process, so we’re here to help break that down for you, as well as provide an estimate of how long the entire process may take.

What to Expect

There are five main stages of the Social Security Disability application and appeal process. While not all applicants will go through all stages, it is important to note that only 30% of applicants are approved at the first stage, which means that 70% of all applicants for Social Security Disability end up going through some form of appeal. Therefore, it is important that you prepare yourself for a long approval process. The time from which you apply for your Social Security disability benefits to the time you are approved could take up to three years if you have to go through all five stages.

The Initial Application

The first stage in the Social Security Disability application process is submitting the initial disability application. Once the application has been submitted, the Disability Determination Services (DDS) office in your state will make the initial disability determination. On average, the entire process for this stage takes about 3 to 5 months to complete.

One of the biggest factors that affect how long you have to wait for a decision is how quickly your medical providers respond to the DDS’s requests for medical records. If the DSS requires more information about your medical health and disability, you may be requested visit your doctor for a consultative exam. The amount of time it takes for you to schedule and complete this exam could either speed up or slow down the process.

As previously stated, 70% of all initial applications for disability benefits are rejected by the SSA. If your initial application is denied by the SSA, do not get discouraged. You can file an appeal for your disability application, beginning with a Request for Reconsideration. You may also want to consider hiring an experienced Disability Attorney to take you through the appeal process.

Expedited Cases

Not everyone who applies for Social Security Disability benefits is subject to the standard 3 to 5 month wait period. If you meet any of the following criteria, then you may qualify for an expedited case:

Compassionate Allowances - Rare cancer or disease may qualify an applicant for a quicker decision. To see if you qualify for the SSA Compassionate Allowance Program, click here.

Terminal Illness Program - Having an illness that is expected to result in death will qualify an applicant for the SSA Terminal Illness Program (TERI).

Wounded Warriors - A wounded veteran or active service member will receive expedited application processing under the Wounded Warrior program.

Social Security Disability Appeals Process

If your initial Disability application is denied, you have the option to appeal the decision made by the SSA. You can appeal your application up to three times. If you have a legitimate disability, we highly recommend going through the appeals process, as your chances of approval increase. We’ve outlined each appeal with the average time period, below:

Appeal #1 - Request for Reconsideration

The first appeal you will file after your initial Disability application has been denied is called the Request for Reconsideration. You have 60 days to file this appeal with the SSA. If you fail to do so within the 60-day time period, you will have to start the application process over again.

A Request for Reconsideration asks the SSA to take another look at your application and any additional medical evidence you provide. During this process, your file is reviewed by a different examiner at your state’s Disability Determination Services. The wait time for a decision on a Reconsideration is between 3-5 months. About 12% of Reconsideration cases are approved at this stage.

Appeal #2 - Request a Hearing

If your Request for Reconsideration has been denied by the SSA, you will proceed by filing your second appeal, which is called the Request for a Hearing. In this appeal, you will be asking for a hearing with an administrative judge within the SSA. You have 60 days to file this request.

All SSA Hearings are held at your local Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The ALJ is responsible for making a decision on your case. The wait time for a hearing varies by state, but it’s usually 18-24 months. To find out what the current wait time for your state is, click here. About 46% of Hearing cases are approved at this stage.

Appeal #3 - Appeals Council Review

If the ALJ from your Hearing denies your case, you will proceed to the third appeal, also known as the Appeals Council Review. The Appeals Council is the final decision maker within the SSA. You have 60 days to file a request for an Appeals Council review. To file the request, you must fill out a form explaining why you believe the ALJ’s decision was incorrect. The Appeals Council will then review all the information you’ve provided and make a final decision on your case. The Appeals Council can either affirm the hearing decision, order a new hearing, or reverse the decision. The average wait time for an Appeals Council review is about 12 months. About 98% of Appeals Council cases are rejected, giving you a 2% chance of approval at this stage.

Social Security Disability Lawsuit

If your case is denied by the Appeals Council, you have the option to file a lawsuit against the Social Security Administration in Federal Court. The Federal District Court can approve or deny your claim or they may send your case back to the SSA for further review. About 70% of appeals in Federal District Courts are rejected, which gives you about a 1 in 3 chance of success.

Social Security Disability Approval

Once your Disability application has been approved at any of the stages outlined above, it will usually take about 2-3 months before you start receiving payments. If you’ve been approved, you will receive a Notice of Approval letter from the SSA that includes the following information:

  1. Your disability onset date (date of your application)

  2. Date you became eligible for benefits (five months after your disability onset date)

  3. Amount of back pay you will be awarded and when you will be paid

  4. The amount you will receive in monthly benefits and when you will be paid

  5. Date of your first continuing disability review (CDR)

After you’ve been approved for disability benefits, you will have to undergo a periodic review to make sure you still eligible for continued benefits. This process is called the Continuing Disability Review (CDR). The frequency of your CDRs depends on the severity of your disability.

Here is a general idea of how often you can expect a CDR:

  • If medical improvement is expected – Every 6-18 months from the start of your benefits
  • If improvement is possible – Every 3 years
  • If no improvement is expected – Every 5 to 7 years

Your disability benefits will continue until you are determined to be no longer disabled or you start working and making more than the allowable income limit. For more information about working while receiving Disability benefits, check out our post here.

April 30, 2018