If you've been waiting more than a couple of months for a Social Security decision, you should check the status of your claim. You can call your local Social Security office to speak to a disability claims representative to check on the status. A claims rep can usually provide a general update on your case, as to where it is in the process, but will not be able to give you much detail on when a decision will be handed down or whether there are any obstacles holding it up.
You can also check the status of your disability case online (go to secure.ssa.gov/apps6z/IAPS/applicationStatus; you'll need the confirmation/number password given to you by the Social Security Administration).
Here are some better ways to check the status of your case, depending on what stage your application is at.
For cases pending at the initial claim level (after you filed the application) and the reconsideration level (after you filed a first-level appeal), it is often more productive for you to speak directly with the disability examiner who is evaluating your claim. Your disability examiner works at a state agency called Disability Determination Services (DDS), not the actual Social Security Administration (SSA). Disability examiners are typically easy to reach by phone, and you can obtain the telephone number for your local DDS from your local Social Security office. There is at least one DDS office in each state; find your state article for a list of the DDS offices in all states.
When you call the DDS, state that you are calling for the status of your case. Typically, the person who answers the phone will ask you for your Social Security number and then connect you with your examiner, who can quickly tell you whether or not your case is pending. (If your case has been decided, the examiner can tell you this, but won't be able to tell you whether you will be approved -- the Social Security office makes the final decision.) If your case is still pending, ask the examiner (politely) if there is anything you can do to help expedite your claim.
Note that in some states, including New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and the L.A. region of California, the reconsideration step has been eliminated. In these states, a claimant who has been denied benefits goes directly to the hearing stage of appeal.
The next level of appeal (in most states) is a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). Once a disability claimant submits a request for hearing, the claim is no longer with the DDS; it has gone to the hearing office, called the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR), where it awaits a hearing date.
If your case is at the hearing level, it will probably not be productive to contact the Social Security office where you filed your claim to check the status of your hearing request. This is because the hearing office (formerly known as the Office of Hearings and Appeals, or OHA), functions independently and autonomously from Social Security. Social Security office personnel will typically have little information available as to the status of a hearing request. (Usually, if you call your Social Security field office to make a hearing status call, you will get a response similar to "We haven't heard anything.")
Instead, make a status call on a hearing request to the hearing office itself. You can find phone numbers to the many regional hearing offices at ODAR's website at www.ssa.gov/appeals/ho_locator.html.
Disability claimants who are represented by a disability lawyer or non-lawyer Social Security disability advocate can allow their representatives to make these calls on their behalf. Your representative should periodically check the status of your case for you, both for the purpose of staying up-to-date on the case and also to avoid missing deadlines.
Having said that, if your lawyer or disability representative can't give you an update and you haven't heard anything in a while, you should protect yourself by also checking on your case yourself.