If you're thinking of applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI)—or if you've already applied—you're probably aware that it can take the Social Security Administration (SSA) a long time to determine your eligibility for benefits. While wait times are different at each SSA office, on average, it can take anywhere from six months to two years to receive benefits. The good news is that there are a few ways to try to speed up the process.
Social Security denies a number of applications because they don't have enough information for the person reviewing the claim (the "claims examiner") to make a decision. It's very important to answer all questions on the application in detail and provide all necessary information. For example, when asked about your medical treatment, provide a list that includes:
It's also important to provide details about all of the jobs you've done in the past 15 years. You should include the following information:
Please see our article on applying for disability benefits for more information about how to complete your application for Social Security disability benefits.
You should check in on the status of your case from time to time. By calling DDS (Disability Determination Services), you can sometimes "spur" the claims examiner to work on your case since, as the saying goes, "the squeaky wheel gets the grease." Checking the status also ensures that your case isn't hung up on waiting for medical records from your doctor.
For more information, see our article on checking the status of your claim.
When the SSA denies an application, you have the right to "appeal" the decision, which means that you request that your application be reviewed by someone who didn't take part in the first decision. During the first appeal, called a "reconsideration," a different claims examiner reviews the evidence submitted in the original application, along with any new evidence. During the second appeal, a hearing, a judge takes a fresh look at all of the evidence.
The SSA gives you 60 days to submit an appeal from the date of the decision. You can speed up the process by submitting an appeal as soon as possible, rather than waiting the entire 60 days, which delays your claim and puts you at risk of missing the appeal deadline. For more information about how to submit an appeal, see our section on Social Security denials and appeals.
If you have good medical records that document your medical conditions and how they limit your ability to perform any work activity, you could benefit from requesting an "on-the-record decision" or an "attorney advisor opinion."
An on-the-record (OTR) decision is a favorable decision (an approval) that an administrative law judge makes before a hearing is held for your case. The judge makes the decision based on the medical evidence in your file at the time the judge reviews your claim. An OTR request is more likely to be successful if your medical condition has gotten significantly worse since the last time Social Security reviewed your claim.
If you think your medical evidence is strong enough for you to win your claim without a hearing, you (or your lawyer) can request an OTR decision from your local Office of Hearings Operations. If the judge doesn't think there is enough evidence to give you a favorable decision, your claim will still be heard at a hearing.
For more information, see our article about on-the-record requests.
An attorney advisor is a staff attorney at Social Security who is allowed to approve certain disability claims before a hearing is held. An attorney advisor may review your claim if you can show that:
The attorney advisor will review your medical records and might schedule a conference with you or request additional medical records to get more information to be able to issue a favorable decision.
For more information, see our article on attorney advisor opinions.
Hiring a legal representative to assist you with your Social Security disability claim may be the easiest and most effective way to make sure you receive a decision as quickly as possible. Experienced representatives (lawyers or advocates) are knowledgeable about Social Security's rules and regulations and will be able to:
For more information, please see our section about the benefits of hiring a legal representative.
Sometimes Social Security will expedite a decision if they receive a congressional inquiry. To obtain a congressional inquiry, you must contact your local senator or congressperson, explain your situation, and ask them to contact Social Security regarding your disability claim. Your senator or congressperson would need to contact Social Security and request that they schedule your hearing sooner, which can sometimes, but not always, help to speed up the process.
The SSA is required to provide special processing of cases that are "critical." Having a critical case is the fastest way to get disability—you might be approved for benefits in one to two months, depending on your disability. Examples of critical situations include:
A terminal illness is a medical condition that is untreatable and is expected to result in death. Examples of situations and medical conditions that the SSA considers to be terminal include:
Your claim of having a terminal illness is not enough to get Social Security to expedite a claim. It's important to provide SSA with evidence of your condition and your prognosis from your medical records.
The compassionate allowance program is designed to quickly identify medical conditions that qualify for Social Security disability benefits under Social Security's evaluation handbook based on a small amount of medical information.
Applicants who have good medical records that easily show the applicant has all of the criteria for disability that is on the compassionate allowance list will qualify for expedited processing. For example, someone who has had a biopsy diagnosing sarcoma of the esophagus could get a decision from Social Security within a month.
A dire need situation exists when applicants claim they:
If you're in any of these situations, writing a dire need letter, or having a disability attorney write one, could help speed up the process. The letter should explain why your claim should be processed more quickly than other claims and it should include documentation of the hardship you face. For example, if you're about to be evicted, you should include copies of the eviction notice and also explain why you're not able to get other shelter. For more information, see our article on dire need letters.
Social Security will designate a case as critical when the applicant has received a 100% permanent and total (100% P&T) disability compensation rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Social Security may also designate a case as critical when the applicant is a current or former military service member who:
For more information, see our article on disability benefits for wounded warriors.
If you're applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you may be able to receive up to six months of payments before the SSA makes a final decision. To receive benefits for presumptive disability, there must be a high likelihood that your medical conditions will meet the criteria for disability detailed in Social Security's evaluation handbook and you must meet the income limitations of the SSI program. Some examples of conditions that qualify for presumptive disability include:
For more examples and information, please see our article on filing for presumptive disability benefits.
Updated May 11, 2023
Need a lawyer? Start here.