The question of how long it takes to get a decision on a Social Security Disability or SSI benefit claim is not easy to answer, for several reasons. Social Security Disability and SSI cases can be won in as little as 30 days, or take as long as two years for benefits to be awarded. There is simply no way to predict how long a case will take because, unlike other programs (Department of Social Services, for instance), the federal disability program does not have deadlines for applications or appeals. On average, though, a decision for an initial disability claim takes three to four months, and a reconsideration (the first level of appeal) takes about as long, though a case could be decided much sooner or much later.
An appeal to an administrative law judge (ALJ) usually takes much longer, however, because a hearing has to be scheduled. This routinely takes six months or longer (and in some parts of the country, the wait is as long as 18 months), but, ultimately, this depends on the number of cases pending at the hearing office, which varies considerably by geographic area.
In many parts of the country, the Social Security initial application and appeals process is getting longer. Why is this occurring? Part of the reason is most likely due to a steep rise in disability claims, which may be a factor of the changing economy and/or the fact that the population is aging. It can be difficult not knowing when you'll get an answer when you are out of work and experiencing tough financial circumstances while you wait for your disability case to be resolved.
Fortunately, if you have a very severe illness with a clear diagnosis, you may be able to get an expedited decision through one of Social Security's expedited disability benefit programs:
- Quick Disability Determination program identifies straightforward and easily determined disability cases through a software program.
- Compassionate Allowances program is available for many cancers and some other illnesses that are easily diagnosed and assessed.
- Terminal Illness program, or TERI, is available for those with terminal illnesses or who are in hospice.
- Presumptive Disability program, for SSI only, gives applicants with certain conditions monthly SSI benefits even before their disability claim is approved or denied.