For many disabled individuals, disability benefits through Social Security Administration (SSA) can provide a financial lifeline in an otherwise disastrous situation. Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules regarding how long it will take SSA to review your claim and, hopefully, approve you for benefits.
Part of the problem is that the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs are not bound by deadlines for applications or appeals, so any influx in the number of people petitioning for benefits will increase the total time it takes to review any one person’s claim. Some individuals may receive a final decision in a couple of months and others a couple of years.
On average, the initial decision on your claim should take 3 to 4 months. If you are denied at that stage, you can apply for reconsideration, which is the first level of appeals, and you should receive a decision at this level in about 100 days. If your claim is again denied, you can request to have a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Scheduling the hearing takes a lot of time, so you could be waiting anywhere from 6 months to 2 years for the hearing. If the ALJ denies your claim, you can appeal to the Appeals Council (AC), which can take up to a year before it makes a final decision. If the AC denies your claim, you can appeal to federal district court, which will take, on average, 8 months to make a decision.
There are some things you can do to ensure a decision on your claim does not take any longer than it needs to. Make sure all contact information for your treating physicians is accurate and up-to-date so that SSA doesn’t waste time tracking down your medical records. Be sure that your work history includes descriptions of what your jobs were and what you did during the workdays. Do not miss any appointments scheduled with SSA because rescheduling will add weeks or months to your wait for a decision. Lastly, if your claim is denied at any point in the process, appeal immediately.
Also consider hiring an attorney to help you with your claim, especially prior to the hearing stage. Although having an attorney represent you won’t guarantee that you will be awarded benefits, statistics clearly show that individuals who have legal representation fare significantly better in front of an ALJ than without one. They can also help you with complex paperwork and stay on top of your medical records, ensuring that SSA has everything it needs to thoroughly and efficiently evaluate your claim.