Social Security Disability Resource Center

Overview | How to Qualify | Applications
Requirements | How long it takes | Back Pay
Mental Disability | What is a disability? | Tips
SSI Benefits | How to Win | Disability Awards
Hearings | Appeals | List of Disabling Conditions

How much time is needed for a Social Security Disability Decision?

It can take several months to receive a decision on a claim for Social Security Disability (SSD) or SSI. The average turnaround for a disability claim is about 3 to 4 months from the date of filing, though this is just an average. The actual time it takes to receive a disability decision depends on several variables, such as how easy or difficult it is for a disability examiner to get copies of your medical records, as well as how many cases are piled upon the disability examiner’s desk awaiting review.

Disability decisions on initial claims and reconsiderations are made at state agencies, which make all disability decisions at these first two levels of consideration for the Social Security Administration. In most states, this agency is referred to as Disability Determination Services (DDS), although it may go by other, similar names depending upon the state, such as the Bureau of Disability Determination, etc.

After being assigned to a claim, a disability examiner will review the claimant’s medical records to determine if the claimant is impaired enough to prevent him from working at his current job, any job he has held within the past 15 years, or any other work for which he may be qualified. Most disability claims are not denied because there is no existing impairment, but rather because a disability examiner has been able to find some job in the national economy at which the claimant “should” be able to earn a minimum amount each month (known as the substantial gainful activity (SGA) amount).

For this reason, those applying for disability, either SSD or SSI, should be very specific on the work history submitted with the initial application. Don’t just throw out job titles; instead, list actual duties performed, job skills, etc. Otherwise the examiner may assume that you have work skills, software knowledge, management experience, etc., which you do not possess.

One way to really slow down a decision on a claim is to fail to supply the examiner with correct contact information for a treating physician or physicians. Put in the time necessary to get this information correct on your medical history up front, rather than delaying your case for several months down the road as your disability examiner attempts to locate your records (see What if the disability examiner cannot find all the medical records?).

However, even after a disability examiner has made a decision on a disability claim, there are other steps that must be taken within DDS before the examiner’s decision is finalized. First, the doctor assigned to the examiner’s unit will review the claimant’s medical records and either agree or disagree with the decision. Typically the opinion of the doctor (or psychologist if the claim is based on a mental impairment) will carry more weight than that of the examiner.

After the unit doctor has reviewed the examiner’s decision, it then goes to the unit supervisor (case consultant), who also gets a chance to either agree or disagree with the examiner’s findings.

Under the best of circumstances everyone within DDS agrees on the decision, and it becomes final. However, in some cases there is yet another hurdle a claim must pass before a decision is sent out to the individual seeking disability. This is known as the “quality control” review. If a claim is randomly selected for such a review, it could take many more weeks before it is cleared, sent back to the Social Security office, and ultimately mailed out to the claimant.

And for those whose initial application and first appeal were denied for disability by DDS, there is yet another lengthy wait before a final decision is reached on their claim, provided they file a second appeal, a request for a social security hearing before a federal administrative law judge (ALJ).

The upside of the disability hearing is that the ALJ can act much more independently than the examiner, without an entire unit looking over his shoulder and second guessing his opinion. The downside is that it can take anywhere from 1 to 2 years to get a disability hearing diaried on the judge’s calendar, simply because there are currently so many disability cases filed each year (see Speeding up the Request for a Social Security Hearing - Documentation that is needed).

One thing to keep in mind about the Social Security Decision—if you stay the course and follow your claim through to the second level of appeal, you are more likely to be awarded disability benefits. ALJs overturn more than half of all claims previously denied by DDS, and the rate of approval increases even further when the claimant is represented by a disability attorney or non-attorney rep at his hearing .

  • What medical conditions will get you approved for disability?

  • What kind of Mental Problems Qualify for Disability?

  • Which conditions will social security recognize as a disability?

  • Tips for getting Social Security Disability or SSI benefits approved

  • SSDRC Homepage:

    Social Security Disability and SSI Resource Center

    The Most Basic questions about Getting Disability Benefits

    Social Security Disability SSI and whether or not you can work

    Common Mistakes to avoid after being denied for Disability

    Social Security Disability SSI Questions and Answers

    More Social Security Disability SSI Questions and Answers

    Common Questions about Social Security Disability and SSI

    Winning Social Security Disability or SSI Benefits

    The SSI Disability Benefits Program

    Medical exams for disability claims

    Applying for Disability in various states

    Social Security Disability SSI and Doctors - Yours and Theirs

    Social Security Disability and SSI Claim Reviews

    Social Security Disability SSI System and Benefits for Children

    Denials, Appeals, and Getting a Disability Lawyer or Representative

    What you should know about Social Security Disability and SSI Denials

    Questions about Disability Lawyers and Hiring a Disability Attorney

    Frequently asked questions about getting Denied for Disability Benefits

    FAQ on Disability Claim Representation

    Disability hearings before Judges

    Selecting and hiring Disability Lawyers

    Various Types of Benefits including SSI, Mental, and Child benefits

    Social Security and SSI based on Mental Disability

    Social Security Disability or SSI Benefits for Children

    Disability Benefits through Social Security

    Filing for Social Security Disability or SSI Benefits

    Social Security Disability SSI: Medical Evidence and Records

    Filing your claim for disability benefits

    Eligibility for receiving disability benefits

    Info about Social Security Disability Approvals and Being Approved

    FAQ on Social Security Disability SSI decisions

    The SSD SSI Decision Process and what gets taken into consideration

    Resources on this site

    Social Security Disability, SSI Terms and Definitions

    Previously answered questions regarding SSD and SSI

    For Individuals living in North Carolina

    Applying for Disability in North Carolina

    North Carolina Disability Lawyer

    Related pages:

    How can you speed up a Social Security Disability case?
    Dire Need and Getting a Social Security Disability or SSI Case Speeded Up
    Speeding up the Request for a Social Security Hearing - Documentation that is needed
    Getting your medical records can help speed up your disability case
    Can I get my Social Security Disability Hearing Request Expedited, Speeded up?
    The Time Involved on a Social Security Disability Decision
    Can a Lawyer Speed Up My Disability Case?
    Can a Congressional Inquiry Really Help to speed up Your Disability Case?
    SSI disability and monthly mortgage payments
    Getting a Disability Lawyer in Pennsylvania
    If you apply for disability in Pennsylvania
    Will I qualify for disability Benefits in Pennsylvania?

    These pages answer some of the most basic questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim.

    Filing for disability - How to file for SSD or SSI and the Information that is needed by Social Security
    How to Apply for Disability - What medical conditions can you apply and qualify for?
    Applying for Disability - How long does it take to get Social Security Disability or SSI benefits?
    What happens if I file a disability application and it is denied by a disability examiner or Judge?
    How to Prove you are disabled and qualify to win disability benefits
    How do you prove your disability case if you have a mental condition or impairment?
    Social Security Disability Back pay and How Long it Takes to Qualify for it and receive it
    Social Security Disability SSI - Eligibility Requirements and Qualifications Criteria