The Social Security Administration is a federal government agency that, on its own, would have difficulty reviewing the hundreds of thousands of disability applications filed each year. Having Disability Determination Services (DDS) offices is a way to ease the administrative burden—by delegating certain parts of the disability determination process to agencies in all 50 states that can review a smaller number of applications.
DDS offices consist of claims examiners who review applications for disability benefits, as well as medical and psychological consultants who can help the claims examiners decide whether an application for benefits should be approved.
Every state has a DDS agency, but some states call their agencies by slightly different names. For example, Florida and New York have Divisions of Disability Determinations (DDD). Nevada has the Bureau of Disability Adjudication, and in Pennsylvania, the agency is called the Bureau of Disability Determination (BDD).
Although DDS agencies are state-run, they're funded by the federal Social Security Administration. When you first apply for Social Security disability benefits, you'll receive notices and decisions on your application from your state DDS.
Most disability applications (also called "claims") are initially processed through a network of local Social Security field offices and state DDS agencies. When you first apply for disability benefits—whether you file online, in person, or over the telephone—your claim will be reviewed by a representative in a Social Security field office. The representative will make sure that you meet the technical requirements for benefits before sending your claim to your state DDS.
When your claim reaches your state DDS, the agency will obtain your medical records, based on the information you've provided about where you're getting treatment for your conditions. Then, a claims examiner—together with a medical consultant—will review your application to decide whether you're disabled.
Sometimes, DDS doesn't have enough information from reviewing your records to make a decision about whether you're disabled. In those cases, you might receive a notice to attend a consultative examination (CE). A CE is a short doctor's visit, usually under one hour, that DDS pays for you to attend. The doctor will conduct a physical or mental status exam and report back to the agency with an opinion on what your limitations are.
The disability determination process typically involves three stages of review: initial application, reconsideration, and the hearing level. If your initial application is denied, you can ask for a different DDS claims examiner to review your file and hopefully come to a different conclusion (a process called reconsideration).
DDS handles your claim at the initial and reconsideration levels. If you're found disabled at either of these stages, DDS will return your claim to your Social Security field office, where a field representative will compute your benefit amount and start paying you benefits.
If you're denied after reconsideration, you can request a hearing in front of an administrative law judge (ALJ). At the hearing level, your application is no longer handled by your state DDS, but instead is processed by the Social Security Office of Hearings Operations (OHO).
All state DDS agencies offer Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the two main types of Social Security disability benefits. Your DDS might also determine eligibility for Medicaid or any additional benefits offered by your state. For example, DDS in Washington State processes disability determinations for a state program for blind adults.
You can find the name and contact information for your state's disability agency by visiting our state-specific disability information pages.
Updated July 19, 2022