How long will it usually take to get a decision on a disability claim?

In certain cases, a decision on a disability application can be received in just a few weeks, which is somewhat rare unless the claimant has a terminal condition, or their case presents a profile that is suitable for processing under compassionate allowance guidelines.

At the other end of the spectrum, decisions have been known to take as much as a year. This, however, is even more rare. When it happens, it is not simply due to difficulty that a disability examiner might have in obtaining medical records, or even due to the necessity of having to schedule multiple consultative medical examinations for the claimant. Or even due to the necessity of having to defer a case for several months because the claimant has suffered a heart attack or stroke (generally, this means the examiner will need to wait three months from the time of the incident to evaluate the claimant's residual functional capacity).

Disability applications that take such an extraordinary amount of time to process usually fall into a "perfect storm" category where many separate issues present problems simultaneously. And, fortunately, this does not happen often.

The average length of time it takes to get a disability decision

The average is what generally applies to most claims: An initial disability determination for SSI benefits or Social Security Disability benefits usually takes anywhere from 30 to 120 days.

If you are denied on a disability application and file an appeal of your disability claim, beginning with the first appeal, a reconsideration appeal, your claim will be sent back to the disability agency for another decision.

Note: When we say "disability agency", we actually mean DDS, or disability determination services, the state-level agency that makes decisions on SSD, SSI, and Medicaid disability claims for the social security administration.

A decision on a reconsideration appeal usually takes less time

As a general rule of thumb, most reconsiderations usually take a shorter amount of time, between 30 to 60 days.

Why? Mainly because much of the work has already been done at the disability application stage. For example, most, or all, of the medical records will already have been gathered.

Typically, a disability examiner working on a request for reconsideration should not have to request additional medical records from a claimant's treatment sources--hospitals, doctors, clinics, psychologists--unless their file is lacking "recent records". And this is more likely to be the case when the claimant has waited until close to the very last minute to file their appeal--which is usually the case.

For a disability examiner to make a decision, particularly an approval, they need to have at least some medical evidence that is not older than 90 days so that the claimant's current disability status can be determined. The reasoning for this is that the social security administration considers the individual more likely to be disabled when their current status shows that they meet the quidelines and severity requirements of the SSD and SSI programs.

Despite the fact that SSA allows a 60 day period in which to submit an appeal at any level of the system, it is always in a claimant's best interests to get the disability appeal filed immediately.

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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