Why Do Social Security Disability Claims Take So Long?

To the claimant filing for disability, the process of receiving a decision no doubt seems unnecessarily long, especially when the waiting period is generally one of financial and emotional hardship. Indeed, the wait for processing Social Security Disability (SSD) or SSI claims has always been months rather than weeks, and it is growing even longer due to the increase in disability applications nationwide'an aging workforce and depressed economy have contributed to the backlog of disability cases filed with social security.

In addition, because disability claims are so often denied upon initial review, and must then pass through the first appeal (called a request for reconsideration), and then upon denial of the reconsideration appeal to a hearing before an administrative judge, the wait for a final decision on an application can stretch from several months into years (the wait to have a case heard before an administrative judge can take up to two years in some areas). In fact, most disability cases must work their way through all three levels, initial request, reconsideration appeal, and disability hearing, before they are finally (if ever) approved.

Although it is true that the process of disability claim approval is lengthy by its very nature, you stand the best chance of having your claim approved early on if you have provided your disability examiner with the contact information needed (this means everything) to obtain all medical records pertaining to your disabling medical condition.

This is because the examiner makes his or her disability determination based solely on information supplied in medical records from physicians and medical facilities whose names, addresses, phone numbers, etc., you have supplied in the your medical history.

The amount of time it takes to process your claim is therefore dependent in large part on the completeness and accuracy of the medical history you have provided, as well as how quickly those physicians listed forward your medical records to the disability examiner. If you have provided a sketchy medical history, the disability examiner will not be able to track down all of the information needed to corroborate your condition.

On the other hand, if you are confident that you have provided a solid medical history and should have received a decision by now (remember that the average wait to hear back on a disability claim is three to four months), you may want to call your disability examiner and find out if he or she needs more information or is having trouble getting your medical records (you can find out the phone number to the disability determination agency in your area by calling the social security office at which you filed the claim). It may be that you can speed up the process if you get the records from your physician yourself and then forward them to the examiner.

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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