SSDRC authored by Tim Moore
Social Security Disability and SSI Questions and Answers
What is the Application Process for Social Security Disability and SSI?
How do you Win Benefits under Social Security Disability or SSI?
If I am determined disabled, how far back will Social Security pay benefits?
How do you prove your disability case if you have a mental condition?
What Can I Do to Improve My Chances of Winning Disability Benefits
Common Mistakes after Receiving a Denial of Social Security Disability or SSI Benefits
How to File for Disability - Tips for Filing
If You Get Approved For SSDI Will You Also Get Medicare?
How much does a Social Security disability attorney get paid?
Social Security Disability SSI Criteria and the Evaluation Process
How long does it take to be approved for SSI or Social Security disability?
What do you Need to Prove to Qualify for Disability Benefits?
Social Security Disability SSI and Fibromyalgia
Social Security Disability SSI and Degenerative Disc Disease
Can I Qualify For Disability and Receive Benefits based on Depression?
More questions about SSD and SSI
What Disabilities Qualify for SSI and Social Security Disability Benefits?
Social Security Disability Status
Social Security Disability Tips — how a claim gets worked on
Social Security Disability, SSI Disability - Terms, Definitions, Concepts
How long does it take to be approved for SSI or Social Security disability ?
How to prove you are disabled
and win disability benefits
There is no set time frame for a Social Security or SSI disability claim to be approved or denied. The length of time it takes to make a disability determination depends on a broad range of variables, including how many times you have to go through the disability process (initial claim, reconsideration, and hearing). Each level of the process takes time and there is no guarantee that you will be approved on your first disability claim.
Average decision waits at each level
For instance, it takes anywhere from thirty to ninety days to get a decision on your initial disability claim. If your initial disability application is denied, you must appeal your denial by filing a request for reconsideration appeal. Your reconsideration appeal takes about sixty days to receive a decision.
If the reconsideration appeal is denied, you must appeal your denial by filing a request for an administrative law judge disability hearing. For most disability applicants, this level of the disability process is the longest and most frustrating. Due to large hearing backlogs at most disability hearing’s offices, many disability applicants must wait twelve months or more to get a disability hearing.
However, while the wait time for a disability hearing can cause significant emotional and financial hardship for disability applicants, this level of the disability appeal process also offers them the best chance of being approved.
The national disability hearing approval rate if about sixty–five percent, which is very good if you consider that another ten percent of cases are dismissed rather than denied. The denial rate for disability hearings is about twenty-five percent and that is the lowest denial rate of any level of the Social Security disability process.
Quicker decisions on disability claims
Fortunately, not all disability applicants have to go through the entire disability process the first time they file for disability. Social Security uses some streamlining procedures to adjudicate disability claims that involve the most serious medical conditions.
For instance, if a disability applicant has a terminal condition their disability claim is expedited through the TERI process. TERI designated disability cases are generally processed in less than thirty days. Even if an applicant’s disability claim does not involve a terminal condition, Social Security has a couple other programs that help push disability claims involving an impairment that is likely to result in approval through the disability process quicker. They are the quick disability determination (QDD) and Compassionate Allowances processes.
Regarding QDD, Social Security’s electronic disability process allows disability claims to be put through a program that analyzes elements of the disability claim to determine if it will most likely result in an approval for disability benefits. Once a disability claim is designated as a QDD claim, it is on track for a quick disability decision.
The compassionate allowances process helps Social Security identify disability claims that involve conditions that always meet the qualifications or criteria of the impairment listings contained in the Social Security disability list of impairments commonly referred to as the Blue Book. Currently, there are one hundred and thirteen compassionate allowance conditions with more likely to be added to the list in the years to come.
Some individuals will receive an approval for disability benefits even if none of the above mentioned processes can be used on their initial disability claim. Roughly, thirty-five to forty percent of all initial disability claims result in an approval for Social Security and SSI disability benefits. Some disability applicants meet or equal the requirements of a Social Security disability impairment listing while others are approved through medical vocational allowances.
How does the medical vocational allowance work?
Social Security takes into consideration an individual’s age, education, medical conditions, what they are able to do in spite of the limitations caused by their disabling condition (residual functional capacity), and the individual's work history when they approve a disability claim through a medical vocational allowance.
Based on what the medical records have to say about their condition, or conditions, the claimant will be given both mental and physical functional capacity ratings (for example, being limited to light or medium or sendentary work and having the ability or inability to engage in tasks that require sustained concentration). These ratings will be compared to the demands of the claimant's past work.
If their current limitations rule out the ability to do past work, and also rule out the ability to do other types of work that rely on the claimant's education and skills, then the claimant may be approved on the basis of a medical vocational allowance. The term "medical vocational allowance" simply means that the case has been approved based on a review of both the medical records and work history, while also taking into consideration the claimant's age.
How long for most initial disability claims or disability applications?
Generally, all initial disability application approvals are processed in ninety days or less. If an individual’s initial disability claim is denied but approved on their reconsideration appeal they are still likely to be approved in less than six months.
Having said this, however, it should be pointed out that the majority of claims are NOT approved at the initial claim (disability application) level. Statistics vary from year to year on a nationwide average basis, but, generally speaking, about 65-70 percent of all initial claims are denied.
The statistics are even worse at the reconsideration appeal level where rates of denial tend to be between 82-87 percent (sadly, not very different today than when I become a disability examiner in the 1990's).
The important thing to remember is that a claimant to stick with the disability process even if it means a long wait for an administrative law judge hearing because eventually the odds of winning disability benefits will be the claimant's favor.
Return to: SSDRC, or the Social Security Disability Questions page