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  • Christopher Le

How Long Does It Take to Get Approved for Social Security Disability Benefits?

If you’re thinking of applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) you may have heard that it takes a long time to find out if you’ll receive benefits. But exactly how long does it take? Every city and state have different wait times but here's an estimated time frame from start to finish.

Average Time From for an Initial Application Decision

After you submit your application for SSDI or SSI, a disability examiner will make an initial decision on your disability claim. The wait times can vary depending on various factors such as time it takes for the disability examiner to receive your medical records, or the time it takes for you to fill out certain disability forms and send it back to the examiner. About nearly two-thirds (62%) of those surveyed received a decision within six months after they filed their initial applications. About four in ten (37%) got an answer within three months, and about 38% had to wait longer than six months. The average wait time based on my experience is about 3-6 months.

If your claim for social security disability is denied, do not give up. You have appeal rights and should appeal. You will have 60 days to appeal your decision and take it to the next stage of the process. The next stage is the reconsideration stage.

Average Wait Time for a Reconsideration Review

Before you can request a disability hearing and have your case heard before a Judge, you will need to go through the reconsideration review stage. Many claim this step is just a formality, since most reconsiderations are denied. But, dont count this stage out altogether because about 10-15% of claims are approved at this stage. According to government data, the reconsideration process took an average of 109 days. Once again, the amount of your wait time can depend on various factors such as backlog in your city or trouble getting your new medical records in a timely manner.

Wait Time After a Disability Hearing

A disability hearing is where a large majority of cases end up at. Unfortunately, many have to wait approximately one to two years to get a hearing date. If you are a veteran, your case will likely be expedited and you may only have to wait 6 months. In the last 2 years, the Office of Hearings Operations has reduced the backlog and have now scheduled hearings within a year after a request for hearing has been submitted.

Going before a Judge and having your case heard is one thing, but actually receiving a decision from that Judge is another. Judges normally do not make a decision at the hearing. Once an applicant has their hearing, they have to wait again for the judge’s decision. The average wait time is between 1-3 months.

Total Wait Time from Start to Finish

Every case is different. Some cases take as little as 12-14 months from beginning to end, while others take up to 30 months. More than a third of those surveyed said it took between two and three years. Some applicants said they waited over 3 years. The average from beginning to end was about 27 months.

Factors That Affect Wait Times for a Disability Decision


Case backlogs are different from state to state and from location to location. Larger cities with a larger population who file for disability will likely have to wait longer than those cities will a smaller population. However, some bigger cities operated more efficiently than others. Cities with short wait times included Houston, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh, while longest waits were in Albuquerque, Reno, and Phoenix.

Individual Circumstances

Every case is different. Some cases take long because your doctors do not provide SSA your medical records in a timely fashion. Sometimes SSA has to send two medical requests to get the attention of your provider. If your medical provider or physician fails to send SSA all your medical records, this can causes additional delays on your claim. Sometimes, your medical diagnosis is severe in itself to render a finding of disabled without the need for any additional medical documentation. Depending on the level of severity and your diagnosis, you may be able to get an expedited decision through the Compassionate Allowance program, or Terminal Illness program.

Do Approvals Take Longer Than Denials?

No, at least not at the initial or reconsideration stage. However, at the hearing level stage, those who were approved for benefits after a hearing received their decision in about seven weeks, while those who were denied waited 2 to 4 months. This is because written decisions for denials tend to be more detailed and therefore lengthy. But just because you are waiting 2-4 months does not mean you have been denied. Every Judge is different. Some Judges issues decisions a lot quicker than others.

Appealing After Being Denied after a Disability Hearing

If you've been denied at the hearing level by a disability Judge, you can appeal your denial within 60 days. The next stage is called the Appeals Council stage and this stage can take about a year on average. If denied at the Appeals Council stage you can file an appeal into federal court. The federal court process can take considerably longer.

How Long After Being Approved will I Receive My First Check?

The majority of applicants, about 65%, will receive their checks within 2 months after approval.

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