Millions of disability applicants file for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits each year. Given the limited resources of the federal government, including the limited number of Social Security Administration (SSA) staff to process disability claims, it's not surprising that it can take months for the SSA to process disability claims.
So assuming that you do everything right – file the proper paperwork, have sufficient medical evidence to prove your case and meet all of the non-medical and medical requirements for disability – it's likely that you'll still have to wait weeks, if not months, to receive your first disability benefit check.
Why does it take so long to get SSDI benefits?
Unfortunately, up to 60–70% of disability applicants are denied the first time they apply for benefits. So not only are millions of applications submitted each year, which delays the processing time for your application, but you may also have to wait years for benefits because it's likely that your case will be denied the first time you apply.
Disability case denied – what next?
If you have been denied SSDI or SSI benefits, it is time to review your disability denial letter. The reason your application was denied should be clearly stated. For instance, the SSA may deny your SSDI or SSI case if they believe that you can perform other work; that your mental or physical condition will not last 12 continuous months; that your mental or physical condition is not severe; that you are working too many hours or making too much money; or that you do not have enough work credits to be considered insured for SSDI.
Should I file a disability appeal?
Unfortunately only some disability denials can be appealed, while others cannot. For instance, if you apply for SSDI benefits and the SSA denies your claim because you do not have sufficient work credits to qualify, you will generally have no recourse. You will have to either file for SSI (which does not require work credits), or you will have to return to work and generate more work credits (exceptions may exist if you can prove that your health condition existed prior to your date last insured or DLI).
If, however, the SSA denied your claim because they said that your condition was not severe, you may simply need to return to the doctor and gather more medical evidence about the severity of your condition and why you do not have the residual capacity to work.
If you miss the appeal deadline, you will have to start your claim again (exceptions exist). It is not recommended that claimants simply file again and again without updating or improving their claim. The chances of winning benefits can improve at certain levels within the appeals process.
Why does the appeal take so long?
Not only does it take weeks, months or years to get SSDI or SSI benefits due to the number of applications and the fact that most disability applications are denied, it can also take a long time because of the length of the appeals process.
After you file your initial application and are denied benefits, you have 60 days to file the reconsideration (some states skip this step and move straight to the hearing). The reconsideration can take 30 to 90 days to complete with an estimated 80% denial rate.
If you are denied at the reconsideration level, you have 60 days to request a hearing before an administrative law judge. In some states, this can be an excruciatingly long wait. In fact, due to the lack of judges and the lengthy backlog of cases, some claimants wait up to a year to have their hearing scheduled with a judge.
How can I speed up my disability case?
While it may seem like all bad news, there is a silver lining. For example, there are some steps you can take to expedite or strengthen your SSDI or SSI disability claim and improve your chance of approval at the application level.
- First, make sure that you understand the disability process and what you need to do to win your case. For instance, to prove that you are disabled, you will need to go to the doctor and make sure that you have medical evidence that documents your condition, your symptoms, your prognosis and your functional limitations to perform work.
- Next, if you are applying for SSDI benefits, you will need to determine if you have sufficient work credits to qualify. View your SSA disability online at www.ssa.gov. You will also need to complete all the paperwork and submit it to the SSA.
- Finally, if the SSA calls and requests additional information, you should answer them quickly and completely. Weeks, if not months, can be wasted by claimants who fail to provide information to the SSA about their doctors or about how the SSA can request medical records.
If you take all the steps listed above, you will significantly improve your chances of winning benefits the first time you apply and expedite your disability payment.