One of the most common questions applicants have when they file for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is "How long will it take to get a decision?" You can receive a decision from Social Security in a few months, but getting the outcome you want—approval of your application—can take several years.
Disability applicants ("claimants") who qualify for SSDI or SSI benefits often don't get approved until after a hearing in front of an administrative law judge. But predicting how long it will take the Social Security Administration (SSA) to make a decision on your case can be difficult because of the many factors that are involved in determining whether you're disabled.
Decision times vary at each stage of the disability application process:
When you first file for benefits, your claim will be reviewed by Disability Determination Services (DDS), a state agency that helps process disability applications. DDS will make a decision on your initial application for disability benefits on average three to five months after filing.
If you were denied at the initial stage—as most claimants are—you can ask DDS to have a different claims examiner take another look at your application to see if you qualify for benefits.
You can expect to hear a decision at this level about five months after your initial denial notice.
You can appeal a denial at the reconsideration level by requesting a hearing in front of an administrative law judge (ALJ). This is the step of the disability process that takes the longest. For 2021-2022, claimants waited on average one year for their hearing to be scheduled.
Wait times for scheduled hearings vary widely depending on the location of your hearing office, however. Some offices (Bronx, NY; Madison, WI) have an average wait time of seven months after receiving a hearing request, while others (Phoenix, AZ; Sacramento, CA) average two years.
After you've attended your hearing, you still need to wait for the ALJ to issue a decision. You'll receive your written decision in the mail usually between one to three months after the hearing.
If you've received an unfavorable decision after your hearing, you can request a review by the Appeals Council, which will take about one year. The council can send back ("remand") your case if the ALJ made an error, which means you'll need to wait for another ALJ hearing to be scheduled—potentially adding another year to the process.
For more information, see our reader survey about how long it takes to get approved for disability benefits.
Whether you're approved quickly or after years of waiting often has to do with factors you can't control, such as staffing issues. But you can help strengthen your claim—and make it more likely that you'll be approved at an earlier stage—by providing supportive medical evidence.
Submitting evidence is important because Social Security looks at the medical records in your file to decide whether you're disabled. Examples of medical records include imaging (X-rays, MRIs, CT scans), progress notes from your doctor, records of any hospitalizations or surgeries, lab results, prescriptions, pharmacy orders, and medical source statements.
If you have a very serious condition or a very strong medical record, you might qualify for expedited processing under the following programs:
Qualifying for disability benefits based on the above programs can reduce the time the agency takes to decide your claim to just under one month.
Non-medical factors the SSA will consider to process your claim faster include:
Some claimants are successful in getting a decision faster by requesting an "on the record" (OTR) decision from an ALJ. OTR decisions aren't available until after you've been denied at the reconsideration level and requested a hearing, so you'll still have to go through those steps. But if your medical record is strong enough, you might convince an ALJ that you're disabled without needing to wait for a hearing.
Several factors can slow down the process of deciding whether you're disabled, increasing your wait time by several months:
The SSA and state DDS agencies process thousands of disability claims every year. You can avoid having your application fall through any cracks by keeping up with the status of your disability claim. For more information, see our article on how to speed up your disability claim.
Having an attorney won't make the SSA decide your claim faster, but your representative will be able to help you get medical records and take advantage of options to help your application process move quicker, such as submitting an "on the record" request.
Additionally, statistics show that if you have an attorney, you're more likely to be approved for benefits. If you're considering hiring an experienced disability attorney, you can review our article on how to find a lawyer or representative for Social Security benefits or use our locator tool to find disability attorneys near you.
Updated September 26, 2022
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