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

Why does a disability claim take so long and is it harder if I am under age 55?

Someone recently asked the following question:

Why does it take so long and why they don't want to grant it to me because I'm not 55.

To be honest, claims have always taken a very long time. This has been true ever since I was a disability examiner in the 90's and I am sure it was the case before then. As to why, there are at least two reasons: first of all, the time it takes to process a Social Security Disability or SSI claim is directly affected by how long it takes to get the medical records gathered from all the sources that have been indicated by a claimant at the time of application. And that can be a matter of weeks and sometimes even months.

However, even when the records have come in, there are often issues that come up in the processing of a case:
  • Will there be a need to send the claimant to a consultative medical exam (which can be physical or mental, or both)?
  • Has the claimant had a recent surgery that requires deferring action on the case until the claimant's response has been assessed?
  • Is there difficulty in obtaining either medical or vocational, or even educational information necessary to adjudicate the claim.
Every claim is different and sometimes a variety of issues come up.

However, in most cases, the amount of time to process a decision has to do with how long it takes to get all the medical evidence together. Examiners will request records from treatment sources usually on the first day they are assigned a case, and often they will have to do multiple followups with the hospital or practice in question. I can remember many instances of having to resend the same request for records several times. That slows cases down.

And, of course, there is the fact that most claims will be denied at the initial claim/application level. That then means having to file one or more appeals. The first appeal, the reconsideration, can take several months. But the second appeal, the hearing request, can take up to a year or longer before a hearing is granted.

Now, as to the second issue of whether or not Social Security will grant benefits to someone who is under the age of 55---younger individuals routinely win disability benefits. But, the medical vocational rules do make it a bit easier for those who are 55 or older to be awarded. Age, educational level, work skills, and one's residual functional capacity are all taken into consideration. And this is because SSA assumes that an older individual who cannot go back to their past work may face more of a challenge in being able to switch to some type of other work.

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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.