There is simply no way to determine or predict how long a case will take. Unlike other programs (such as the Department of Social Services, for example), the federal Social Security disability program unfortunately does not have deadlines to issue decisions on applications or appeals. Although there are no time limit deadlines to issue decisions, the following attempts to give some estimates of how long each stage of the disability process typically takes:
The Initial Claim
Social Security advises that it may take up to 180 days to issue a decision on a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI or SSD) or SSI claim. That being said, the average length of time it typically takes to receive a decision on your disability claim is from three to five months. It can vary depending on several factors, but primarily on:
- The nature of your disability;
- The number of medical providers you identified in your application;
- How quickly we obtain medical evidence from your doctor or other medical source;
- Whether it is necessary to send you for a medical examination in order to obtain evidence to support your claim; and
- If your claim is randomly selected for quality assurance review of the decision.
The first appeal after an initial denial is a Request for Reconsideration. A “Recon” Request typically takes between three weeks and three months to be decided. The length of time at this stage is typically determined by the amount of new records that must be obtained, and whether a consultative examination has been ordered.
The Hearing Before an Administrative Law Judge
If the Request for Reconsideration is denied, the claimant must file a Request for Hearing Before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). There is “good news” and “bad news” about this stage of the process. The good news is that this is the claimant’s best chance of winning (statistically). The bad news is that it can take a horrendously long time to get to a hearing. In fact, it can take as long as two years for a hearing before and ALJ can take place and for benefits to be awarded.
An appeal to an ALJ usually takes much longer because a hearing has to be scheduled and heard. In the Mobile, Alabama and Pensacola, Florida area, the wait averages 13 months. [Note: this does not run from the initial application; this is the wait from the time the Request for Hearing is filed after Reconsideration.]
In many parts of the United States, the Social Security initial application and appeals process is taking longer and longer. Why is this happening? Part of the reason is a steep rise in disability claims, which may be due to the changing economy. The rise in claims may also be due to the fact that the population is aging.
What Can You Do?
At the Ortiz Law Firm, we understand that it can be difficult not knowing when you’ll receive an answer to your claim when you are out of work and short on income while you wait for your disability case to be decided.
Fortunately, if you have a very severe medical condition with a clear diagnosis, you may be eligible for an expedited decision through one of Social Security’s expedited disability benefit programs:
- The Quick Disability Determination program identifies straight-forward and easily-determined disability cases through a sophisticated software program;
- The Compassionate Allowances program is available for many cancers and other severe illnesses that are easily diagnosed and documented with objective medical findings;
- The Terminal Illness program (TERI) is available for those with terminal illnesses or who are in hospice;
- The Presumptive Disability program (for SSI claimants only) gives applicants with certain conditions monthly SSI benefits even before their disability claim is approved or denied.