Whether you are applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the length of the process varies from person to person depending on where they live and the severity of their condition.
For example, those with serious illnesses could be eligible under the Compassionate Allowance Initiative, which drastically reduces the waiting time. Unfortunately, it is also possible for an individual to have their claim rejected, forcing them to appear at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge.
At the initial stage, a Social Security Disability claim may take an average of just over three months to process. Reconsiderations make take another two months of processing time, while the wait for a hearing date in front of a judge can take more than two years.
Approximately 70% of Social Security Disability claims fail on the first attempt.
Filing an Initial Claim
The first step of the Social Security Disability application process involves filing your initial claim with the Social Security Administration. Once they accept this, it will be sent off to the state-run Disability Determination Services, which determines the medical validity of Social Security Disability claims.
It is important to include in your application a complete and detailed medical history. This includes the names, telephone numbers, and addresses of every single clinic, hospital and doctor you saw in relation to the injury for which you are claiming Social Security Disability. It is also necessary to present a record of every job you have held for the past 15 years.
The DDS will then determine whether your injury is preventing you from returning to your old line of work, or achieving any type of substantial gainful employment. This portion of a Social Security Disability claim can take a while to complete depending on the availability of your medical records.
If you are found to be medically disabled and unfit to work, your file will be sent to the Social Security Administration who will decide how much you are entitled to before they start paying.
The Appeals Process
About 30% of applications are successful on the first attempt. If your Social Security Disability claim is unsuccessful at this juncture, you have two choices.
While it is possible to file an entirely new disability claim, statistics have shown that when a person has an initial claim rejected, all subsequent Social Security Disability claims will also fail. It will also delay the inevitable hearing process, as you will have to wait several months before your new claim is processed.
Instead, it is better to file a Social Security Disability appeal, which involves a somewhat complicated procedure known as a request for reconsideration. At this point, it is an excellent idea to seek legal representation to ensure you do not miss deadlines or fail to follow the appropriate steps to ensure your claim has a strong chance at the appeal level.
All appeals must be filed within 60 days of the initial rejection or else your Social Security Disability claim must start from the beginning once again.
Part of this process involves completing an Appeal Report in which you must state if your condition has changed since you initially filed the Social Security Disability claim. The reconsideration process entails another examination of your files by a different examiner at your state’s Disability Determination Services.
Administrative Law Judge
If your Social Security Disability appeal fails to be approved at reconsideration, you have the option to file a request for a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge. Social Security Disability applicants who appear before this judge have a higher chance of being approved than they did when they dealt with a state disability agency.
At this point, your Social Security Disability claim is in the hands of the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR). Due to the large backlog of hearing requests, the waiting time for Social Security Disability applicants to be heard in court varies wildly from state to state.
A national ranking report took the average ODAR hearing processing times from 143 offices and found that shortest and longest average wait times were 272 days and 622 days, respectively.
Should your disability claim receive yet another denial at the hearing level, it is possible to file a request at your local Social Security Office to have your claim reviewed by the Appeals Council.
You will be required to fill out a form which asks you why you felt the court’s decision was incorrect. An experienced lawyer may be able to find errors made by the judge. Once again, you have 60 days to appeal the judge’s decision.
If all this fails, your last option is to take your Social Security Disability claim to the Federal District Court.
The SSA’s Compassionate Allowance Initiative provides for exceptions to the procedural rules outlined above. The initiative basically enables individuals suffering from one of 88 rare diseases or cancers to have their Social Security Disability claim expedited due to the extremely severe nature of the illnesses.
In some cases, claims that are heard under the Compassionate Allowance Initiative can be won within 20 days.
Speak with a Social Security Lawyer
Filing for Social Security benefits can be a bit complex. Especially considering that 70% of initial claims are rejected, it is recommended to seek the counsel of a Social Security lawyer.
Social Security lawyers are paid on a contingency fee basis, meaning they only get paid if you win your claim. They will be able to make sure you have all the proper documents together, in order to give you the best chance of getting the benefits you deserve.