How Long Does It Take to Get a Decision for Social Security Disability?

It can take a month to more than two years to get approved for disability benefits. The more serious your disability is, the more likely you are to get approved quickly.

The question of how long it takes to get a decision on a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplement Security Income (SSI) benefits 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 can take as long as three years for benefits to be awarded. There is no way to predict how long a case will take because, unlike other programs, the federal disability program does not have deadlines for applications or appeals. In a survey we took of our readers, the average time from application through multiple levels of appeals to a decision was 27 months.

Initial Application and Reconsideration Decisions

On average, a decision for an initial disability claim takes three to four months, and a reconsideration (the first level of appeal) takes about as long. In our survey, we found that while almost 40% of our readers received an answer on their initial applications within three months, the same number of readers had to wait between four and eight months for an answer. We didn't ask readers how long their reconsideration took, but government statistics say reconsideration takes about 100 days on average.

Appeal Hearing Decisions

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, the time it takes to get your hearing scheduled 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.

How to Get a Disability Decision Faster

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.

One way to speed up getting a decision is to make sure you immediately request an appeal at each stage (reconsideration, ALJ hearing, and possibly Appeals Council), rather than waiting until close to the 60-day deadline. This can shave four to six months off of your wait time.

Or, 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 benefits programs:

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