How long does it take to get disability?

Appeals, medical records, and avoiding mistakes all play a role

by Tim Moore. Free Case Evaluation for North Carolina Residents here.


How long does it take to get disability?

The answer can depend on how many appeals you have to file, how quickly you file them, and whether or not Social Security has trouble getting your records.

Based on my experience as a former disability examiner (who made decisions on SSD and SSI claims), you can generally expect a disability application decision in ninety days or less. Sometimes, it takes longer, up to six months or more. Sometimes, the decision will be made in less than a month. But that doesn’t happen often.

What makes the difference? Very often, it depends on how long it takes Social Security to get all your medical records. And this is why you should provide full and detailed information about your medical treatment sources so you don’t slow your claim down.

Bu that’s just the decision on the disability application. Because most people have to file appeals (because their claim will be initially denied), they will typically not be awarded disability benefits until they have gone through a reconsideration appeal and a disability hearing. The reconsideration may only take a couple months. But the wait for a hearing that has been requested can take many months, even a year.

(Read if you live in North Carolina)

Providing information to Social Security when they request it can eliminate some of the wait. Avoiding critical mistakes (e.g. not responding to SSA correspondence, missing appeal deadlines, or missing a scheduled medical exam) can certainly reduce how long it takes to get through the disability application and appeal process. 

Getting the decision vs getting approved

No matter how quickly you get a decision, the truth is that most claims are denied at the application level, and so most people will need to file one or more appeals before they are finally approved.

So, how long does it take to get approved?

How long disability approvals take on applications and appeals

Here’s what happens on most claims:

1. The application decision will be made in 3-4 months, with most decisions made in under 90 days. This is what Social Security usually quotes. 70 percent of cases will be a denial, and 30 percent will be an approval.

2. In most states, the next appeal is a request for reconsideration. This decision is usually faster because the medical records will already have been gathered for the application. On average, you should get the decision in 1-2 months, and sometime in under four weeks.

How many cases get approved on a reconsideration?

The denial rate is higher on a reconsideration…mainly because the process is identical to the application. Depending on your state, the rate of denial will be about 80 percent, but it can go as high as 90 percent.

Can I predict my odds of being approved and how long my case will take?

Actually, you can.

So, if you start with 100 people applying for disability, 30 people (i.e. 30 percent) will get approved within 3-4 months time on average. The remaining 70 who got denied should file an appeal. Of those 70 who appeal, about 56 will be denied (80 percent), and 14 of them (20 percent) will be approved.

Who gets approved in a six month timeframe?

Within an average six month timeframe, about 44 of the original 100 people who filed a claim will eventually be approved, on a disability application or on a reconsideration appeal.

Having to file a request for a disability hearing appeal

But…what if you get denied on the application and also the reconsideration appeal? This is where the wait becomes longer and where you submit a request for a hearing before an administrative law judge.

Many people get their approval at a hearing

The disability hearing is where you should have a disability lawyer, or a disability representative, to handle your case. A lawyer will try to get your case approved by meeting a disability listing, or proving you qualify through a medical vocational allowance. This is an approval that happens when your medical condition is severe enough that you can’t do your past work, and can’t do do some type of other work.

How long does it take to get a disability hearing?

If you submit a request for a hearing, how long it takes will depend on your state, because backlogs vary from state to state. However, you should expect that it will take between 6 months and a year to get a hearing. In many states, it can take longer. After getting a lawyer, that individual can tell you about current wait times for hearing requests in your state.

How long does it take to get a disability decision after the hearing is held?

Many judges will tell you at the hearing that the decision will be forthcoming. They might even say that it will be a few weeks. However, there’s more to the story. Even if the ALJ, or administrative law judge, makes up his or her mind quickly, the decision still needs to be written up. This is done by a decision writer at the hearing office. And this can take weeks because decision writers also have backlogs.

So, it could be weeks or months after a hearing before you get a notice of decision. If it seems as though your case is taking too longer, call your lawyer and have them contact the hearing office for a status update on your hearing. I have made many of these calls and sometimes the call actually gets the case finished sooner. Sometimes, the case was held open for evidence and they didn’t realize the evidence had already been received…until you made the status check.

Can you get a faster disability decision?

This can happen, but it usually applies to certain circumstances. Not all disability applicants have to go through the entire disability process and Social Security uses some streamlining procedures to decide which cases should get faster attention.

Terminal cases, or TERI cases

If a person 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.

What if your case is not terminal?

Social Security has a couple other programs that help move cases faster. They are the quick disability determination (QDD) and Compassionate Allowances processes.

Quick disability determination, or QDD cases

Regarding QDD, this process analyzes elements of the disability claim to determine if it will most likely result in an approval for benefits. Once a disability claim is designated as a QDD claim, it is on track for a quick disability decision.

Compassionate allowance decisions

The compassionate allowance process helps Social Security identify disability claims that involve conditions that nearly always meet the qualifications of an impairment listing in the Blue Book (the list of impairments).

There are well over one hundred compassionate allowance conditions, and more will probably be added in the the years to come.

Not giving up on your claim

The important thing to remember is that you should stick with the disability process. Most people get denied not once, but at least twice. So, even if it means a long wait for an administrative law judge hearing, keep pushing forward with your case. Because eventually, the odds of winning disability benefits will be in your favor.