Here's a sad but commonplace scenario. A person is employed many years, perhaps at just one job, suddenly to find that their medical condition has worsened to the point that they can no longer do their job, or, realistically, any other job. On their own initiative or on the advice of others, they contact the Social Security office and file a claim for benefits. Then they wait.
About two months into the process, they decide to make a call and check the status of their claim. They are simply told that "the evaluation will take 90 to 120 days." And so, again, they wait. Finally, several more months after the process originally began, they get a letter that their application was denied. Since the letter mentions that an appeal may be filed (a reconsideration), they file the appeal. And then they wait...and wait...and wait.
Once more--and, generally, of course, a number of months later--they receive another letter. Statistically speaking, this is usually a second denial letter. Once again, the letter states that an appeal can be filed and this time it involves a hearing before an administrative law judge.
So, the claimant files a request for hearing before an administrative law judge, and waits, hopefully, for a hearing date to be set in the near future. It is at this stage of the appeal process that the experience becomes overwhelmingly disappointing and frustrating. Because, depending on where you live in the country, a request for hearing may take a year or longer to process. And, unfortunately, it doesn't end there. After a hearing has been held, it may be weeks or even months before a decision is made by a judge and, even if an approval is granted, many weeks more before benefits are made available. All told, depending on how backlogged the system is in a claimant's particular state of residence, it may take up to 2 1/2 years before disability benefits are ever received.
It goes without saying, of course, that, by allowing claims to drag on for such extended lengths of time, the Social Security Administration is not fulfilling its duties to truly disabled citizens. Fortunately, almost everyone who ends up getting approved for disability benefits will get a large back-payment check when their benefits finally start. SSI recipients can get backpay going back to the date of their application, while SSDI applicants can get an additional year of retroactive benefits if their disability began long before they filed an application. For more information, see our section on disability backpay.