How Long Will it Take to Get Disability?

calendarOne of the first questions we are asked is, “How long does the Social Security Disability process take?” While each claimant’s situation is unique, there are some general time frames that most people can expect.

The first step, obviously, is to file an application (either in person, via phone or online). After preliminary processing by your local Social Security field office, the claim goes to the state Disability Determination Bureau (in Indiana, that’s Indianapolis; in Illinois, Springfield). Adjudicators there request and examine claimants’ medical records. They also may send claimants additional paperwork to complete and/or schedule exams for them with physicians under contract with DDS. That agency then issues an initial decision, which takes an average of 3 to 4 months (but sometimes as long as 6).

If your initial claim is approved, congratulations! But a great many are denied. In that case, a claimant has 60 days to appeal, which is called a Request for Reconsideration. The information required at this stage is not as extensive as when first applying, because Social Security is looking only for updated medical information pertinent to the claim. Again, DDS will request and study medical reports provided by doctors you have seen since filing your application, and additional paperwork and exams are also possible. This part of the process also takes an average of 3 to 4 months.

Sometimes claims are approved at the Reconsideration stage, but a substantial number are denied. This doesn’t mean all hope is lost. A claimant can appeal again (also required within 60 days) by filing a Request for Hearing, which involves providing the latest medical information. This is where the process really bogs down, however, because it usually takes a disability hearing office about one year to schedule a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. The majority of clients we represent at hearings are awarded benefits.

Some claimants must pursue the process even further. Should an ALJ deny benefits, the claim can be appealed to the Appeals Council, which may decide to send the claim back to the judge for another hearing. AC decisions take about 12 to 18 months. If the claim is denied yet again, it can be appealed at the federal level, where a decision takes at least 18 months.

While that is a worse-case scenario, it’s clear that getting disability is often not a quick process. If you would like some help, please call us for an appointment. We see clients at every step, from those who have not yet applied to those who are considering a federal appeal. Disability attorney fees come from a client’s back benefits, not billable hours, so don’t delay!