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

How long Social Security will take to process your continuing disability review, and whether your benefits are terminated, depends on whether or not you're selected for a full medical review.

By , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

If you're getting disability benefits, you can expect Social Security to review your claim periodically to see if you still qualify. You can expect to face a "continuing disability review" (CDR) every three to seven years, depending on your age and medical condition.

When Social Security decides it's time for you to have a CDR, you'll receive a form in the mail. Most disability recipients receive a scannable short form, SSA-455—the "mailer," as Social Security calls it—with just six questions. Others must complete the long-form, SSA-454, the Continuing Disability Review Report.

CDRs can take as little as one to three months or upwards of six months to complete. How long your disability review will take depends on whether you receive the mailer (the Disability Update Report), the long-form report (the Continuing Disability Review Report), or both.

If You Receive the Mailer (Form SSA-455) Only

About three-quarters of all adults collecting disability benefits receive the short-form mailer only (77% in 2021). This form, called the "Disability Update Report," asks just a few simple questions, including:

  • whether your health has improved
  • if you and your doctor have discussed your ability to work
  • whether you've visited a doctor, clinic, or hospital
  • if you've done any recent work, and
  • whether you've recently had any kind of schooling or training.

You can fill out the scannable mailer and send it in, or you can complete Form SSA-455 online. Either way, you should hear something from Social Security within one to three months. Most people who complete the mailer will get a letter saying that Social Security doesn't need to do a medical review at this time.

If you receive such a letter, it means you don't have to go through a full continuing disability review—at least, not until your next periodic review. And 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 should expect to get your next mailer or long-form report in three years. (Learn more about how frequently your disability case will be reviewed.)

If You Receive the Long CDR Form (SSA-454) Only

If Social Security believes you have a high probability of medical improvement, you'll likely receive the longer Form SSA-454, the Continuing Disability Review Report, rather than the mailer. If you receive Form SSA-454, it means that you're getting a full CDR.

You need to fill out this form completely and send it in. The long CDR form asks extensive questions about your disability, including:

  • whether your condition has changed
  • whether you've worked since your last review
  • what your daily activities and limitations are, and
  • what the details are of all your visits with doctors and treatment facilities.

You'll need to provide your healthcare providers' names and contact information so that Social Security can request your medical records. Social Security will then do a full medical review (FMR) of your case, which could take three to five months.

If You Receive the Mailer Followed by Continuing Disability Review Report

Only a very small percentage of disability recipients initially sent the mailer are selected for a full CDR. If this happens to you, it's because one or more of your answers on Form SSA-455 (the mailer) indicated a need for a CDR.

If you're selected for a CDR after submitting a mailer, the following will take place:

  • you'll receive Form SSA-454 a month or two after you submit the short form
  • Social Security will then request your medical records
  • Social Security will conduct a full medical review of your case, and
  • you'll have to wait longer to find out whether you get to keep your disability benefits—generally five to six months—sometimes longer.

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 which of the three profile types Social Security has given you:

  • high
  • medium, or
  • low.

Who gets the mailer? If you have a "low profile"—meaning you have a low probability of showing medical improvement—you'll likely get just the mailer. If you receive the short form, you'll be less likely to undergo a CDR. Social Security determines your profile by looking at the following:

  • 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. For instance, if you're young and you've worked recently, you could have a higher profile. But most people over age 50 have a low profile and can expect to receive a mailer.

Who gets the long form? Social Security will likely send you the long-form report and put you into the CDR process if:

  • you have a high or medium profile (in which case you might not even get the short form), or
  • you indicate one of the following on the short-form mailer:
    • you're working, or
    • you haven't been to the doctor recently.

Also, Social Security randomly selects a small percentage of all recipients to undergo a CDR, regardless of their profile.

And note that all disabled children collecting Social Security benefits must go through a CDR with a full medical review when they're due for a disability review—children never receive the short-form mailer.

Will You Get to Keep Your Benefits After a CDR?

The good news is that whether you receive the mailer or the long-form report, you're much more likely to get to keep your disability benefits than you are to lose them. Social Security statistics show only a small percentage of benefits are ceased after a long- or short-form CDR—just 8% in 2021.

Mailer only: Remember, if you receive only the mailer, and Social Security sends you back a letter saying there's no need to do a review, your benefits won't be terminated. Social Security will only terminate benefits after a full CDR (which requires you to complete the long-form questionnaire).

Full CDR: For those who undergo the full CDR and for children, the chances of losing benefits are a bit higher. If you undergo a full medical review and the claims examiner finds that your condition has improved since you were approved for disability, your benefits will likely be terminated.

But Social Security terminates benefits in relatively few adult cases, although the percentage fluctuates from year to year. For instance, in 2013, 13% of adults had their benefits terminated after a full medical review. In 2017, the number jumped to about 16%, and by 2020, it was back down to 13%.

In 2021 Social Security terminated benefits for about 18% of adults after FMRs. (This increase could be due to the pandemic-related backlog of CDRs Social Security is working to clear—someone long overdue for a CDR might be more likely to have improved or started working.)

But there's some good news for those whose benefits are stopped after a disability review. More than half of all CDR benefit terminations are reversed on appeal.

SSI vs. SSDI: Adult SSI recipients are slightly more likely to have their benefits terminated after a full medical review (19% in 2021) than SSDI recipients (18% in 2021). For more details, read our article on your chances of SSDI and SSI termination after a CDR.

Children's CDRs: Children are generally more likely to have their benefits terminated after a CDR. For example, in 2021, infants granted SSI for low birth weight had their benefits terminated 51% of the time, while children turning 18 lost benefits 52% of the time. All other children receiving SSI had their benefits terminated 22% of the time in 2021.

Appealing a Cessation of Benefits After a CDR

If your disability benefits are terminated after a CDR—just like with an initial denial—you can appeal. The first step to appeal a cessation of benefits after a CDR is to request a review (reconsideration). You can expect a CDR reconsideration to take three to six months.

Note that the review conducted by Disability Determination Services (DDS) in a CDR appeal is different from the review conducted after an initial claim is denied. In both a cessation appeal and an initial denial, the reconsideration is essentially a review of your file by a different DDS staff member.

If DDS doesn't reverse an initial denial, you can appeal again by requesting a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). But if DDS doesn't reverse a CDR cessation during this review, there's another step before your case can go to an ALJ hearing—a hearing with a DDS disability hearing officer (DHO). Only if you lose that hearing would you request an ALJ hearing.

Learn more about how to appeal if your benefits are terminated after a CDR.

Updated January 20, 2023

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