How Long Does a Social Security Disability Appeal Take?

How long your disability appeal will take depends on the complexity of your case and other factors.

By , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

The Social Security Administration (SSA) says it takes four to six months for most disability applicants to get an initial decision on a claim. But how long it will take your claim to work its way through the Social Security appeals process depends on the details of your case and how far up the appeals chain you go.

How Long Will My Social Security Appeal Take?

Disability cases don't have deadlines, but Social Security publishes averages for the time it takes to process reconsideration requests and hearing requests. Every case is different. And a lot of factors affect how quickly an appeal progresses.

For example, the varying sizes of certain offices' backlogs mean some appeals take longer than others. A case might be assigned to a DDS claims examiner or administrative law judge with 300 cases to work on, or it might go to an examiner or judge with just 90 cases on their schedule.

Other factors that can have an impact on how long your appeal takes include things like:

  • the nature of your disability (does your claim qualify for expedited processing?)
  • how long it takes to gather your medical evidence, and
  • the type of benefits you applied for (claims for both SSDI and SSI benefits can take longer than those for SSDI or SSI alone).

Where your case is in the appeals process also affects how long you can expect to wait for a decision.

Reconsideration Timeline

First, you have 60 days after receiving your initial denial to request a reconsideration of the decision. Once you make the request, it can take a claims examiner a couple of months up to seven months or more to approve or deny your claim on reconsideration. The average was 211 days in 2024, or about seven months.

If you're one of the lucky 13-17% of people approved for benefits at the reconsideration stage, you're done.

Learn more about the timing of reconsiderations.

Appeal Hearing Timeline

If your claim is denied after reconsideration, you'll have another 60 days to request an appeal hearing. Then, depending on your location, you'll wait anywhere from 9 months (Kansas) to 15 months (Florida) to 20 months (Oregon) for a hearing date. The average wait time for an in-person hearing is about one year.

After your hearing, you'll have to wait anywhere from a few weeks to three months to get the judge's decision. So, when you add it all up, the typical appeal takes about two years from the request for reconsideration to getting a judge's decision.

Are There Ways to Speed Up the Disability Appeals Process?

One of the most important steps you can take to keep your claim moving as rapidly as possible through the appeals process is to pay attention to the deadlines. Missing a deadline will not only slow down the appeals process, but it can also kill your claim.

So, unless you have a good reason to file a late appeal, missing a deadline could mean you have to start the Social Security claims process all over again by filing a new application.

If you have new evidence you didn't submit with your initial application, or new test results that show your condition is worsening, you don't have to wait for your appeal hearing to bring it up. You can introduce this information at the reconsideration stage by calling the Disability Determination Services office in your state.

If you can get your denial reversed at the reconsideration stage, you can shorten the appeals process to three or four months.

If your claim has been denied after reconsideration, your next step is to request a hearing. But if you have a very strong case, you can speed up your appeal by requesting an attorney advisor opinion. This pre-hearing review can get you a decision on your appeal without having to wait for a disability hearing.

Learn more about what can speed up your Social Security disability appeal.

Should You Appeal a Social Security Denial?

If your initial disability claim was denied, you should request a reconsideration. Although most reconsiderations uphold the initial denial, it's a necessary step to get your case heard by an administrative law judge (ALJ). And, for most people, it makes sense to ask for an appeal hearing, because it's at this stage in the disability process that highest percentage of claims are won.

But going beyond the appeal hearing level and taking your disability case to the Appeals Council can be a waste of time for many. The Appeals Council doesn't review every case—only those where the hearing judge made an error of law. And you often can't introduce new evidence.

Especially if you have new evidence to support your case, it can make more sense to file a new disability claim—something you can't do if you're awaiting an Appeals Council review of your current claim.

Getting Help With the Next Steps in Your Disability Appeal

When you apply for Social Security disability benefits or appeal a denied claim, you have the right to get help from a lawyer or non-attorney advocate. And you generally don't have to pay for that help unless you win. (Social Security pays your representative out of your back payment award.)

Having a disability lawyer becomes more important the farther you go in the appeals process. But hiring a lawyer can improve your chances of winning disability benefits even at the reconsideration level.

And an experienced disability attorney or advocate knows what to do to ensure the appeals process moves as quickly as possible.

(Learn more about the advantages of having a disability attorney for your appeal.)

Updated January 17, 2024

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