Social Security Disability Resource Center

Overview | How to Qualify | Applications
Requirements | How long it takes | Back Pay
Mental Disability | What is a disability? | Tips
SSI Benefits | How to Win | Disability Awards
Hearings | Appeals | List of Disabling Conditions

How long does it take to be approved for SSI or Social Security disability?

How long a disability determination takes depends on a broad range of variables, including how many times you have to go through the disability process (initial claim, reconsideration, and hearing). Each level of the process takes time and there is no guarantee that you will be approved on your first claim.

Average decision waits at each level

For instance, it generally (meaning not always) takes anywhere from thirty to ninety days to get a decision on your initial disability claim. If your initial disability application is denied, you must appeal your denial by filing a request for reconsideration appeal. Your reconsideration appeal takes about sixty days to receive a decision.

If the reconsideration appeal is denied, you must appeal your denial by filing a request for an administrative law judge disability hearing. For most disability applicants, this level of the disability process is the longest and most frustrating. Due to large hearing backlogs at most disability hearing’s offices, many disability applicants must wait twelve months or more to get a disability hearing.

However, while the wait time for a disability hearing can cause significant emotional and financial hardship for disability applicants, this level of the disability appeal process also offers them the best chance of being approved.

The national disability hearing approval rate is about sixty–five percent, which is very good if you consider that another ten percent of cases are dismissed rather than denied. The denial rate for disability hearings is about twenty-five percent and that is the lowest denial rate of any level of the Social Security disability process.

Quicker decisions on disability claims

Fortunately, not all disability applicants have to go through the entire disability process the first time they file for disability. Social Security uses some streamlining procedures to adjudicate disability claims that involve the most serious medical conditions.

For instance, if a disability applicant has a terminal condition their disability claim is expedited through the TERI process. TERI designated disability cases are generally processed in less than thirty days. Even if an applicant’s disability claim does not involve a terminal condition, Social Security has a couple other programs that help push disability claims involving an impairment that is likely to result in approval through the disability process quicker. They are the quick disability determination (QDD) and Compassionate Allowances processes.

Regarding QDD, Social Security’s electronic disability process allows disability claims to be put through a program that analyzes elements of the disability claim to determine if it will most likely result in an approval for disability benefits. Once a disability claim is designated as a QDD claim, it is on track for a quick disability decision.

The compassionate allowances process helps Social Security identify disability claims that involve conditions that always meet the qualifications or criteria of the impairment listings contained in the Social Security disability list of impairments commonly referred to as the Blue Book. Currently, at the time of this writing, there are one hundred and thirteen compassionate allowance conditions with more likely to be added to the list in the years to come.

Some individuals will receive an approval for disability benefits even if none of the above mentioned processes can be used on their initial disability claim. Roughly, thirty-five to forty percent of all initial disability claims result in an approval for Social Security and SSI disability benefits. Some disability applicants meet or equal the requirements of a Social Security disability impairment listing while others are approved through medical vocational allowances.

How does the medical vocational allowance work?

Social Security takes into consideration an individual’s age, education, medical conditions, what they are able to do in spite of the limitations caused by their disabling condition (residual functional capacity), and the individual's work history when they approve a disability claim through a medical vocational allowance.

Based on what the medical records have to say about their condition, or conditions, the claimant will be given both mental and physical functional capacity ratings (for example, being limited to light or medium or sendentary work and having the ability or inability to engage in tasks that require sustained concentration). These ratings will be compared to the demands of the claimant's past work.

If their current limitations rule out the ability to do past work, and also rule out the ability to do other types of work that rely on the claimant's education and skills, then the claimant may be approved on the basis of a medical vocational allowance. The term "medical vocational allowance" simply means that the case has been approved based on a review of both the medical records and work history, while also taking into consideration the claimant's age.

How long for most initial disability claims or disability applications?

Generally, all initial disability application approvals are processed in ninety days or less. If an individual’s initial disability claim is denied but approved on their reconsideration appeal they are still likely to be approved in less than six months.

Having said this, however, it should be pointed out that the majority of claims are NOT approved at the initial claim (disability application) level. Statistics vary from year to year on a nationwide average basis, but, generally speaking, about 65-70 percent of all initial claims are denied.

The statistics are even worse at the reconsideration appeal level where rates of denial tend to be between 82-87 percent (sadly, not very different today than when I become a disability examiner in the 1990's).

The important thing to remember is that a claimant should stick with the disability process even if it means a long wait for an administrative law judge hearing because eventually the odds of winning disability benefits will be in the claimant's favor.

  • What medical conditions will get you approved for disability?

  • What kind of Mental Problems Qualify for Disability?

  • Which conditions will social security recognize as a disability?

  • Tips for getting Social Security Disability or SSI benefits approved

  • SSDRC Homepage:

    Social Security Disability and SSI Resource Center

    The Most Basic questions about Getting Disability Benefits

    Social Security Disability SSI and whether or not you can work

    Common Mistakes to avoid after being denied for Disability

    Social Security Disability SSI Questions and Answers

    More Social Security Disability SSI Questions and Answers

    Common Questions about Social Security Disability and SSI

    Winning Social Security Disability or SSI Benefits

    The SSI Disability Benefits Program

    Medical exams for disability claims

    Applying for Disability in various states

    Social Security Disability SSI and Doctors - Yours and Theirs

    Social Security Disability and SSI Claim Reviews

    Social Security Disability SSI System and Benefits for Children

    Denials, Appeals, and Getting a Disability Lawyer or Representative

    What you should know about Social Security Disability and SSI Denials

    Questions about Disability Lawyers and Hiring a Disability Attorney

    Frequently asked questions about getting Denied for Disability Benefits

    FAQ on Disability Claim Representation

    Disability hearings before Judges

    Selecting and hiring Disability Lawyers

    Various Types of Benefits including SSI, Mental, and Child benefits

    Social Security and SSI based on Mental Disability

    Social Security Disability or SSI Benefits for Children

    Disability Benefits through Social Security

    Filing for Social Security Disability or SSI Benefits

    Social Security Disability SSI: Medical Evidence and Records

    Filing your claim for disability benefits

    Eligibility for receiving disability benefits

    Info about Social Security Disability Approvals and Being Approved

    FAQ on Social Security Disability SSI decisions

    The SSD SSI Decision Process and what gets taken into consideration

    Resources on this site

    Social Security Disability, SSI Terms and Definitions

    Previously answered questions regarding SSD and SSI

    For Individuals living in North Carolina

    Applying for Disability in North Carolina

    North Carolina Disability Lawyer

    Related pages:

    How long does it take to be approved for SSI or Social Security disability?
    How long does it take to get a decision on Social Security disability or SSI?
    How Long Does It Take To Get Disability Benefits When You First File?
    How long will it take to start getting disability benefits after you have received an award notice?
    How Long Can You Receive Social Security Disability Benefits?
    How long does it take to appeal a disability case?
    How long does it take for the disability decision in North Carolina?
    How long does it take to receive North Carolina disability benefits after you are approved?
    How Long Will It Take For A Decision Letter For Social Security Disability?
    Can I file for SSI online?
    How to claim disability benefits

    These pages answer some of the most basic questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim.

    Filing for disability - How to file for SSD or SSI and the Information that is needed by Social Security
    How to Apply for Disability - What medical conditions can you apply and qualify for?
    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?
    How to Prove you are disabled and qualify to win disability benefits
    How do you prove your disability case if you have a mental condition or impairment?
    Social Security Disability Back pay and How Long it Takes to Qualify for it and receive it
    Social Security Disability SSI - Eligibility Requirements and Qualifications Criteria