How Long Does It Take to get an answer on a disability claim?

In large measure, it depends on what level of the system your claim is pending at. Most claimants may potentially be exposed to three different levels of the claim system: the application for disability, the request for reconsideration (which is the very first appeal), and the request for hearing before an administrative law judge (the second appeal).

The disability application

The wait at this level tends to be under six months, and, very often, a decision on a Social Security Disability or SSI claim can be received in under 120 days.

The application process begins with an application interview at a social security office. At that interview, the claimant provides all the necessary information regarding their medical treatment and work history. The claimant also supplies, to the best of their knowledge, the onset date for their disability.

In many cases, this alleged onset date (AOD) will correspond to the date that the individual stopped working. Of course, for those who were not employed at the time they became injured or ill (children, stay at home spouses, individuals between jobs, etc), the claimant will have to think of when their condition became severely limiting, having a restrictive effect on their ability to enage in normal activities of daily living.

How long it takes to receive an answer on a disability application can depend on a number of factors:

1. The disability examiner who has been assigned to process the case may have a particularly large caseload;

2. The claimant may be required to go to one or more consultative examinations (a CE is usually ordered to obtain recent medical evidence if a claimant has not been to a treatment provider in the last 90 days);

3. The disability examiner may have difficulty obtaining requested records from one or more medical sources.

Regarding the last, it is not unusual for disability examiners to have everything they need to finish processing a disability claim with the exception of one piece of evidence that has been repeatedly requested from a specific hospital. Sometimes, this involves multiple sendings of the information request and multiple followup calls as well.

The time it takes to process a disability application for SSD or SSI benefits is largely beyond the control of the claimant. That is, of course, except in the case of scheduled appointments.

If the disability examiner schedules the claimant for one or more CE (consultative exam) appointments, the claimant should call to confirm that they will attend the appointment. If something comes up, making it impossible to attend the appointment, the claimant should notify the disability examiner as soon as possible so the exam can be rescheduled.

Failing to attend a scheduled examination, and failing to notify the examiner about not being able to go to the appointment consumes unnecessary time and adds to how long it will take to get a decision on a claim. Very often, missing an appointment can add at least an additional month of time to a case.

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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