How long does it take to get a decision on Social Security Disability or SSI?

There is no certain amount of time for a medical decision on a Social Security Disability claim or SSI claim to be processed. Usually, though, the Social Security Administration makes a medical decision on an SSD or SSI application within 30-120 days of being taken. Working as a disability examiner myself, I found that a high percentage of claims would be decided generally by the 90th day of processing.

However, some disability claims take longer to process due to a variety of reasons, which may include a lack of current medical evidence, an inability to contact the disability claimant, and missed medical or psychological exams which have been scheduled by Social Security (these are known as consultative exams). The following suggestions may help shorten the length of time needed to process your disability claim.

1. Notify Social Security of all address and telephone number changes. A disability examiner who is working on your Social Security Disability or SSI claim may need to contact you directly and ask questions about your daily activities (what you do in your normal "activities of daily living" may reflect your various physical or mental limitations), your work history (for instance, the examiner may be having difficulty identifying your job title based on the description you provided at the time of submitting your application for disability).

2. Respond to all information requests from the Social Security Administration and from the state agency (DDS, or disability determination services) responsible for making medical determinations on disability claims for the social security administration (this is where the disability examiner working on your case is based). As we said in item 1, the examiner may need to contact you about one or more aspects of your case. The quicker you respond, the sooner the disability examiner can move to get your case ready for a decision.

In some instances, if the examiner cannot reach you on the phone, or if your number has changed, they will send you a "call-in letter". This letter gives you ten days to respond. If you do not respond within the alloted timeframe, there is the slight possibility that your case could be denied for failure to cooperate (though, usually, the examiner would send more than one letter).

3. If you are scheduled for a Social Security medical or psychological evaluation (known as a CE, or consultative exam), be sure that you go to your appointment. You may reschedule your consultative exam if you need to, but remember this will most likely add additional processing time to your claim. If you know that you cannot attend a consultative exam on the appointed date, you will need to call and reschedule the examination. Do not simply "miss the appointment", because your disability claim may be denied for failure to attend your consultative examination.

Claimants are often confused as to the purpose of the examination appointment, wondering why they are being sent to one. It should be pointed out that the exam is not to provide treatment. But, instead, to get a quick snapshot of your current physical or mental limitations (some exams are mental in nature and may consist of IQ testing or memory testing).

Occasionally, a claimant will be sent to a type of exam for a condition that they do not believe they have. When this happens, it is because something in the medical indicated that a certain condition might exist. For example, a claimant's family doctor might have briefly noted "depression" in his or her treatment notes. This alone can result in a claimant being sent to a mental status exam.

4. Call Social Security from time to time to inquire about the status of your claim. The state disability agency may not have been able to contact you for some reason, or may need you to provide additional information, or there may have been a decision made on your case that, for one reason or another you did not receive notification of. It happens extraordinarily often that a claimant will not call to check on their case until four or five months have gone by, only to learn that their case was denied three months earlier and that the 60 day deadline has already passed.

Claimants who are represented can have their disability attorney or non-attorney representative conduct periodic status checks. Those who are not represented may wish to call once every 60 days. Where do you call? You can call the social security office. By doing that, you can at least learn if a decision has been made. However, it is often better to call the disability examiner who is working on the case at disability determination services. The number for the examiner can be obtained from the social security office where you initially filed your claim.

Keep in mind, however, that the disability examiner will not be able to tell you how long your case will take. Nor will the examiner be able to reveal the decision on your case if one has already been made.

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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