How Long Does A Social Security Disability Appeal Take?

The length of time a Social Security Disability appeal takes is most affected by the appeal level of the disability claim.

If an individual is appealing their initial disability decision, they will have to file a reconsideration appeal. Reconsiderations are a mirror image of the disability determination process at the application level. There is essentially no difference between the two stages other than the fact that a different person works on the claim.

How long does a Social Security reconsideration appeal take? Generally, a reconsideration appeal decision does not take as long as an initial disability claim decision. Initial claims, or disability applications are generally quoted as requiring 90-120 days in order for Social Security to reach a decision. Reconsiderations often take considerably less time than this and it is not unusual for a reconsideration appeal decision to be made within 30 days.

This is, in part, because reconsideration appeals are basically just a review of the decision on the initial claim, but this time performed by another disability examiner at the same state disability agency where disability determinations are made (this agency is known in most states as DDS, or disability determination services).

In many instances, the examiner who works on the reconsideration appeal does not even have to get any new medical information to make their decision. This is especially so if the disability claim had current medical information in it from the initial disability decision (on the disability application) that was, in most cases, made just weeks earlier.

In somes cases, the turn around time can be as a little as a week or so. As one might guess, very few initial disability decisions are overturned at the reconsideration appeal level. In fact, nationally, only about 11-15 percent of reconsideration appeals are approved.

The wait for a disability hearing and decision

When the reconsideration appeal is denied, the next step will be to request a hearing before an administrative law judge. Disability applicants run into long waits when they file their request for an administrative law judge hearing (the second appeal in the social security appeal system). Wait times for a disability hearing can be as long as a couple years in some areas of the country.

Why is the case? Social Security hearings offices across the nation have huge backlogs of hearing requests. The wait for a hearing will usually make the total wait time for a disability claim stretch to at least two years, counting the time it has taken for a decision on a disability application, the filing of a reconsideration request, the time it takes for that decision to be made, and then for the hearing to be requested and scheduled.

How long does it take to get a decision following the actualy holding of a hearing? As this page states (How Long Does It Take To Get The Results Of A Disability Hearing?), "ALJs will often inform the claimant that they may receive written notification 45 days to 90 days after the hearing date. However, it is not unusual for a hearing office to deliver a decision on a disability hearing only after several months have passed."

There is just no way around the fact that the disability appeal process can be an arduous journey filled with stress and financial difficulty simply because of the disability hearing wait time. And, of course, another fact that disability applicants should consider is that they may not win their disability benefits the first time, or even the second time they go through the disability claim process.

Related: How to win Social Security Disability or SSI benefits.

The best thing a disability applicant can do to speed up the Social Security appeal process is to make sure they (or their representative, who can be a disability attorney or a non-attorney representative), file their appeal quickly if they receive a denial notice. Just by doing this, an individual might shave off three or four months of processing time. And when an individual is desperately waiting for income, every month counts.


Can you speed up the Social Security Disability process?
Can a disability attorney speed up my disability case? By What Methods?

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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