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 sooner or later than that.
About half of all disability claimants go on to request an appeal hearing. An appeal to an administrative law judge (ALJ) usually takes much longer, because a hearing has to be scheduled. This generally takes at least six months, but in some parts of the country, the wait is as long as 18 months or two years). Ultimately, this depends on the number of cases pending at the hearing office, and how many judges work in the office, which varies considerably by geographic area.
It can be difficult not knowing when you'll get an answer from Social Security 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: