The SSD Application Process and Timeline

Keyboard According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), 56 million Americans, or one-in-five live with disabilities, with 38 million Americans, one-in-ten living with severe disabilities. In adddition, for 20-year olds today, more than one-in-four will become disabled before reaching retirement age. Living with a disability may substantially impact a person’s ability to earn enough money to support themselves and their family. If you are currently disabled and unable to work or your work capacity is severely limited, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits.

The SSA pays disability benefits through two programs: 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.

After You’ve Applied

Here is what to expect when you apply for Social Security Disability, including an estimate of how long the entire process might take.

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.

Stage One - The Initial Application

After submitting your disability application, the Disability Determination Services (DDS) office in your home state will make the initial disability determination. If you are found to be medically disabled and unable to work, your file will then be sent to the Social Security Administration, who will complete the next step of the process, which includes deciding how much in benefits you are entitled to.

The entire process for stage one takes about 3 to 5 months. One of the biggest factors that affects 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 to go in 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. Another factor that could prolong your wait time is the current workload of the SSA. While you may not be able to control the speed of the SSA, it certainly makes a difference in your wait time if you complete all your requested tasks as quickly as possible.

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

Expedited Cases

Not everyone who applied for Social Security disability is subject to the standard 3 to 5 month wait time. There is a certain criteria that may qualify you for an expedited case. The following items may qualify you for an expedited case:

Compassionate Allowances - There is a list of 228 rare diseases and cancers that may qualify someone for a quicker decision through the Social Security Administration Compassionate Allowances program (CAL). For more about the Compassionate Allowances process, click here.

Terminal Illness Program - Disability applications for people with terminal illnesses - conditions that are expected to result in death, are expedited through the Social Security Administration Terminal Illness (TERI) program. For more about the Terminal Illness program, click here.

Wounded Warriors - The disability applications for Military Casualty/Wounded Warriors are also expedited once the Social Security Administration is notified of the applicant’s status as a wounded veteran or active duty service member. For more about the Wounded Warriors expedited program, click here.

The Disability Appeals Process

Stage Two - Request for Reconsideration

If your initial application is denied, you have 60 days to file an appeal with the SSA. If you fail to file the appeal within 60 days, you will have start the process all over again. This is the first step of the Disability Appeal Process - Request for Reconsideration.

A Request for Reconsideration asks the Social Security Administration to take another look at your file 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.

Stage Three - Request a Hearing

If after the Request for Reconsideration, the SSA denies your appeal, you can then ask for a hearing before an administrative judge within the Social Security Administration. You have 60 days to request a hearing from the SSA. The hearing would be held your local Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR), where an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will decide your case.

The wait time for a hearing varies by state, but it’s usually between 18-24 months. To find the nearest ODAR office in your area, click here. An administrative law judge (ALJ) will make a decision on your case. About 46% of Hearing cases are approved. You have 60 days to appeal the Judge’s decision to the Appeals Council.

Stage Four - Appeals Council

If the Administrative Law Judge from your hearing denies your case, you can also have your case reviewed by the Appeals Council. The appeals council is the final decision maker within the Social Security Administration. You will be required to fill out a form and explain the reason why you believe the Administrative Judge’s decision was incorrect. The average wait time for an Appeals Council review is about 12 months. The Appeals Council can affirm the hearing decision, order a new hearing, or reverse the decision. About 98% of Appeals Council cases are rejected, giving you a 2% chance of success at this stage. You have 60 days to appeal this decision to Federal Court.

The Appeals Council for your state may be located in a regional office that may be in another state. For the Appeals Council location for your state, click here.

Stage Five - Federal District Court

If your claim is denied by the Appeals Council, you can file a lawsuit against the Social Security Administration in Federal District 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.

After You’ve Been Approved

Once your application is approved, it will take some time to start receiving payments, usually about 2-3 months. You will first receive a Notice of Approval letter from the Social Security Administration that will include details about:

  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. Amount you will receive in monthly benefits and when you will be paid 1, Date of your first continuing disability review (CDR)

Continuing Disability Review

After you have been approved for disability benefits, you will have to undergo periodic review to make sure you are still disabled and eligible for continued benefits. This is called continuing disability review (CDR). The frequency of your CDRs depends on the severity of your disability. Here is what you can expect regarding your CDR:

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

Your benefits will continue unless you are determined to be no longer disabled or start working and make more than the allowable threshold. For more about Working While Receiving Disability Benefits, click here.