How to file for disability, Filing for SSI
Disability Requirements, Disability Status
How long is the wait?, Disability Application
The Social Security List of Impairments
Qualifying for Disability, Mental Disability
Disability Lawyer Info, Disability Back Pay

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 .

Essential Questions

What is the Social Security Disability SSI list of impairments?

Can you work while getting or applying for Disability?

How Often Does Social Security Approve Disability The First Time You Apply?

Tips for getting Social Security Disability or SSI benefits approved

What medical conditions will get you approved for disability?

What kind of Mental Problems Qualify for Disability?

Receiving a Disability Award Letter

Conditions Social Security will recognize as a disability

Previously answered questions regarding SSD and SSI

Applying for disability in your state

Most popular topics on SSDRC.com

Social Security Disability SSI Questions

The listings, list of disabling impairments

Can a mental illness qualify you for disability?

Disability Lawyers prevent unnecessary denials

How much Social Security Disability SSI back pay?

How to apply for disability for a child or children

Filing a Social Security Disability SSI application

Filing for disability - when to file

How to apply for disability - where to apply

Qualifications for disability benefits

How to Prove you are disabled and Win your Disability Benefits

Qualifying for Disability - The Process

How to get disability for depression

Getting disability for fibromyalgia

SSI disability for children with ADHD

What is the Application Process for Social Security Disability and SSI?

Common Mistakes to avoid after being denied for Disability

Social Security Disability SSI Exam tips

More Social Security Disability SSI Questions

Social Security Disability SSI definitions

What makes you eligible for Social Security Disability or SSI?

New and featured pages on SSDRC.com

Who can help me file for disability?

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.

Can you get temporary Social Security Disability or SSI benefits?

Permanent Social Security Disability

What is the difference between Social Security Disability and SSI?

Who is eligible for SSI disability?

Can I Be Eligible For SSI And Social Security Disability At The Same Time?

What makes a person eligible to receive disability benefits?

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?

For the sake of clarity, SSDRC.com is not the Social Security Administration, nor is it associated or affiliated with SSA. This site is a personal, private website that is published, edited, and maintained by former caseworker and former disability claims examiner, Tim Moore, who was interviewed by the New York Times on the topic of Social Security Disability and SSI benefits in an article entitled "The Disability Mess" and also by the Los Angeles Times on the subject of political attempts to weaken the Social Security Disability system.

The goal of the site is to provide information about how Social Security Disability and SSI work, the idea being that qualified information may help claimants pursue their claims and appeals, potentially avoiding time-consuming mistakes. If you find the information on this site helpful and believe it would be helpful to others, feel free to share links to its homepage or other pages on website resource pages, blogs, or social media. Copying of this material, however, is prohibited.

To learn more about the author, please visit the SSDRC.com homepage and view the "about this site" link near the bottom of the page.