How Long Does a Social Security Disability Review Take? When Will I Know if I Pass?

How long Social Security takes to process a continuing disability review depends on whether you're selected for a full medical review or not.

By , Attorney
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If Social Security decides it's time for you to undergo a continuing disability review (CDR), you'll receive a form in the mail from Social Security. Most disability recipients receive the short-form Form SSA-455—what the agency calls a "mailer"—with just six questions, whose answers Social Security can scan into its computers. Other disability recipients receive the long-form Form SSA-454.

How long the review takes depends on whether you receive the mailer, the long-form report, or both.

If You Receive the Mailer Only

About 72% of all disabled adults receive the short-form mailer only. This form, called the Disability Update Report, asks you about whether your health has improved, whether you and your doctor have discussed your ability to work, whether you've visited a doctor, clinic, or hospital, and whether you've done any recent work, school or training.

Most people who fill out the mailer and send it in will get a letter from Social Security after one to three months saying that Social Security does not need to do a medical review at this time. This means you do not have to go through a CDR at this point and your CDR is deferred until your next periodic review.

Social Security will reset your periodic review interval, which it calls your "medical reexamination diary," at the same interval it was before you received the mailer. For instance, if Social Security designated you as "medical improvement possible" and gave you a three-year diary when you were approved for benefits, you'll be sent another mailer or long-form report in three years. (For more information, read our article on how frequently your disability case will be reviewed.)

If You Receive the Long-Form CDR Form Only

Disability recipients who are thought to have a high probability of improvement receive the long-form report rather than the mailer. If you receive Form SSA-454, called the Continuing Disability Review Report, means that you're getting a CDR. You need to fill out this form in full and send it in. This form asks extensive questions about your disability, whether your condition has changed, and whether you've worked since your last review. You also need to describe your daily activities and list all visits with doctors and facilities so that Social Security can request your medical records. Social Security will then do a full medical review (FMR) of your case, which may take three to five months.

If You Receive the Mailer Followed by Continuing Disability Review Report

About 2-3% of disability recipients who are initially sent the mailer are selected for a full CDR. This means that one or more of their answers on Form SSA-455 indicated a need for a CDR. If you are selected for a CDR, this means that, one to two months after you send in the mailer, you'll receive Form SSA-454 to fill out. Social Security will then request your medical records and then do a full medical review of your case. Recipients in this category have to wait the longest to find out whether they get to keep their benefits—five to six months, sometimes more.

Will You Receive the Short-Form SSA-455 or Long-Form SSA-454?

Whether you receive just the mailer or the full Continuing Disability Review Report depends on whether Social Security has given you a high, medium, or low profile. A low profile means you have a low probability of showing medical improvement, and you'll be less likely to have to undergo a CDR. Social Security determines your profile by looking at your age, any recent earnings, your impairment, how long you've been receiving benefits, and the date of any previous CDRs.

Not everyone with a "medical improvement not expected" (MINE) diary necessarily has a low profile—a young age and recent work can change this. But most people who are over age 50 have a low profile and can expect to receive a mailer.

If you have a high or medium profile, you are more likely to be selected for a CDR and get a long-form report right off the bat. Or, if you indicate on the short-form mailer that you are working or that you haven't been to the doctor recently, you are likely to be sent the long-form report and be put into the CDR process. Also, a small percentage of all recipients is randomly chosen to undergo a CDR, regardless of their profile.

Note that all children who receive go through a CDR with full medical review when they are due for a review; no children receive the short-form mailer.

Will You Get to Keep Your Benefits After a CDR?

The good news is that, of all the adult disability recipients who received either a mailer or the long-form disability review report in 2017, SSA statistics shows only 4.5% had their benefits ceased. (Remember, if you receive only the mailer and Social Security sends you back a letter saying there is no need to do a review, your benefits will not be terminated. Benefits can only be terminated if you are sent the long-form and go through a full CDR.) For those who undergo the full CDR, and for children, however, the chances of losing benefits are quite a bit higher.

Those who go through a full medical review will have their benefits terminated if the claims examiner finds that their condition has improved since they were approved for benefits. This happens in relatively few adult cases, although the percentage of adults whose benefits are terminated has been increasing over the last few years. In 2013, 13% of adults were terminated after a full medical review, while in 2017, over 16% of adults had their benefits ceased after a full medical review. (The fact that there was an extensive backlog of CDRs that Social Security tackled in the last three years may have helped this increase—claimants who are long overdue for CDRs may be more likely to have improved or started to work.) But the good news for this 16% whose benefits were ceased is that about half of CDR benefit denials are reversed on appeal.

SSI recipients are slightly more likely to have their benefits terminated after a full medical review (17% in 2017) than SSDI recipients (15% in 2017). For more details, read our articles on your chances of SSDI termination after a CDR and your chances of SSI termination after a CDR.

Finally, children are much more likely to have their benefits terminated after a CDR. Infants who were granted SSI for low birth weight had their benefits terminated 55% of the time (in 2017); while children turning 18 had their benefits terminated 54% of the time. All other children receiving SSI had their benefits terminated 28% of the time.

CDR Review vs. Initial Review
Note that the review in a CDR is different from the initial review of a disability claim that Disability Determination Services does if a claimant appeals after his or her initial claim is denied. In most states, the first level of appeal is called reconsideration; it is essentially a review of the file by a different claims examiner. The average time for DDS to process a reconsideration was 101 days in 2017, but this review can take anywhere from three to five months.

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