Why Does Social Security Take So Long to Make a Decision on an SSDI Claim?

Social Security disability cases take a long time due to medical record requests and waiting for an ALJ to hear your case.

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Question

It's been months since I've heard anything on my disability claim. What makes Social Security take so long?

Answer

There are two steps that can take a long time in the Social Security disability determination process: the initial review and the appeal hearing. (Most claims have to go to an appeal hearing to get approved.)

Initial Review Delays. When you apply for Social Security disability, there is a very specific process which your claim must be taken through to attain a medical disability decision. Your disability claim is forwarded from the Social Security field office to the state disability agency for a medical determination (this agency gathers your medical records and reviews them for the Social Security administration). 

The state disability agency gathers all of your medical records from the medical sources (doctors and hospitals) you gave during your disability interview or on your disability application. Waiting for the medical records often takes a couple of months. And if your medical information is not current (within the past 90 days) or if the medical records that are received don't address you medical conditions thoroughly, you may have to attend a consultative medical exam (a doctor visit scheduled and paid for by the Social Security Administration). 

Appeal Hearing Delays. While gathering new, up-to-date medical records and evidence can also lead to delays in the appeal process (see our article on medical delays during appeal), the reason it takes so long to get an appeal hearing is simply because there are more disability appeals going through the system than the small number of administrative law judges can handle. The time is takes to get a hearing date scheduled is often about twelve months. For more information, see our article on disability hearing wait times

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