Ask someone who has been through the Social Security Disability application process how long it takes to be approved for benefits and the answers you get will vary. A few people may tell you it only takes three to four months. More often than not you will be told it can take a year or more fordisability benefits to be awarded. Why does it take so long for the Social Security Administration to approve most of the disability claims it receives, and why are some people approved for benefits more quickly than others? The following information can help you understand why the processing times for disability applications vary so greatly.
Many disability applicants send their applications to the Social Security Administration expecting to be approved in just three to four months. Sometimes that happens. Most frequently, however, it does not. The initial stage of the Social Security Disability application process does only take about three to four months to complete. With that being said, it is important to understand that only about 30 percent of applications are approved at this stage of the application process. What does this mean to you?
If your disability case is cut and dry and you have a condition that meets all of the Social Security Administration's disability guidelines, you may indeed qualify for disability benefits at the initial stage of the application process and it might only take you three to four months to be approved. Unfortunately, most applicants do not meet the specific published guidelines or they do not have enough medical evidence to support their claim. Because of this, their initial claim for Social Security Disability is usually denied, requiring them to go through the appeal process in order to receive benefits. This is when time because a serious concern.
The Dreaded and Lengthy Disability Appeals Process
When you receive a letter from the Social Security Administration notifying you that your claim for benefits has been denied you have 60 days to appeal the decision. The first stage of appeals is called a Request for Reconsideration. In a perfect world you could file your reconsideration request and be awarded benefits within a few short months. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world and that rarely happens.
Once your application for disability benefits has been denied and the Request for Reconsideration is filed you have to wait to receive the decision regarding your request. This usually takes three or four months, but sometimes it can take longer than six months depending on the caseload of your local Social Security Office and your particular disability claim. At this point you're probably thinking, “Waiting another few months for approval isn't so bad, right?” Wrong, because chances are your reconsideration request is going to be denied as well. In fact, less than one-quarter of Requests for Reconsideration are decided in the favor of the applicant.
After your Request for Reconsideration has been denied you're about six to ten months into the Social Security Disability claims process, depending on how long it took you to file your appeal. You now have another 60 days to appeal the denied reconsideration request. This is when the real waiting begins.
After the Request for Reconsideration, the next stage of the disability appeal process is the disability hearing. At this stage of the appeal, you will bring your case before an Administrative Law Judge (and you should be working with a qualified disability lawyer when doing so). The problem is, it can take a year or more to have your hearing scheduled due to the SSA's hearing backlog. By the time your hearing date arrives, you may be two years into the disability claim process.
The good news is that approximately two-thirds of disability appeals are decided in the favor of the applicant at the hearing stage of the appeal process. In order to increase your chances of being awarded disability benefits, you should have an attorney representing you during your disability hearing. If you are not awarded benefits at your hearing due to a lack of proper legal representation, you may be waiting another two years or more while you go through the disability application and appeals process all over again.
Being Awarded Disability Benefits
Although the Social Security Disability claim process can take years to complete, if you are awarded benefits at your appeal you do not have to worry about foregoing the benefits you were entitled to while appealing the SSA's decision to deny your benefits at the initial stage of the application process. The Social Security Administration will pay you back payments of the benefits you should have been receiving while you were going through your appeal. For example, if you are awarded $1,000 per month and the Administrative Law Judge determines that you were eligible for disability 18 months ago, you would receive a back-payment of $18,000. Your Social Security attorney will receive 25-percent of this back-payment amount in return for representing you during your disability case. This prevents you from having to pay for your lawyer out of your own pocket and makes legal representation affordable to all Social Security Disability applicants.