Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are two forms of disability benefits the U.S Social Security Administration (SSA) offers. If you have a disability that prevents you from working and earning an income, these benefits could help you pay for food, housing, and other such essentials.
That said, it’s important to understand that the approval process can be somewhat lengthy. How long does it take to get approved? Although there’s no definitive answer to this question, this guide should provide you with valuable insight.
How Long Does it Take to Get a Disability Decision?
What is the average time to get approved for disability? According to the SSA, it usually takes three to five months for applicants to receive decisions.
However, some receive approvals sooner. Others may wait fairly longer.
To more clearly answer the question “How long does it take to be approved for disability?”, it may help to break the process down into the following components:
Initial Application & Evaluation
Surveys of disability benefits applicants and recipients indicate the SSA’s estimate of three to five months for applicants to learn of the SSA’s initial decision is likely accurate. According to surveys:
- Approximately 37% of applicants receive decisions within three months of submitting their applications to the SSA
- 62% of survey participants indicated hearing back from the SSA within six months of filing their applications
- About 38% of applicants have to wait longer than six months to learn whether the SSA approved their applications.
Be aware that the SSA historically has not approved initial applications for disability benefits. As of this writing, the SSA tends to approve about 35% of initial applications annually.
It’s possible the SSA will approve your application upon initial review. If this happens, you can begin receiving benefits without having to complete any other significant steps. However, this isn’t likely. If the SSA denies your application, you can proceed to the next step in the process:
Reconsideration & Hearing
You may appeal the SSA’s decision and request to present your case to a disability judge at a hearing if the SSA denies your application. The first step in the appeals process is a reconsideration.
A reconsideration is the first level of appeal. At this stage, a disability examiner reviews your application once more.
They typically don’t approve applications during the reconsideration process. However, you must still complete this formality before you can see a judge. Data indicates the reconsideration phase usually lasts about six months.
You may have to be patient as you wait for a hearing. Surveys reveal that nearly half of all applicants wait between one and two years before receiving hearing dates. The average wait time is usually slightly over a year.
You must also wait for the judge to provide their decision after you’ve received a hearing date. This often takes one to two months, but it could take longer, particularly due to backlogs in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Total Wait Time
It’s critical to remember there’s no universal answer to the question “How long does disability take to process?” That said, in surveys, slightly over one-third of applicants indicated the overall process took between two and three years. About a quarter of applicants must wait longer than three years to potentially begin receiving benefits.
Factors That Impact Wait Times for a Disability Decision
There is no one answer to the question “How long does it take to receive disability benefits?” This is partially because numerous factors can influence the length of the process. They include:
- Location: Backlogs significantly impact how long it takes to review disability benefits applications. In some parts of the country, backlogs may be more common than they are in others.
- The details of your case: The nature of your disability can affect how long it may take to complete certain steps in the application process. For example, if running diagnostic tests for your condition is fairly time-consuming, gathering the medical evidence to show you deserve benefits may take you longer than it would take someone else.
- Applying for both SSI and SSDI: Some readers may be here because they wish to know “How long does it take to get approved for SSDI?” Others might want to know how long it takes to get approved for SSDI. Yet others might have applied for both. Statistically, those who apply for both programs tend to wait longer.
The timeline can also depend somewhat on what stage you’re at and what decision the SSA ultimately makes. Upon reviewing initial applications, the SSA usually takes about the same amount of time to issue approvals as it does to issue denials.
However, after applicants appeal initial denials and present their cases to judges, the SSA often takes longer to issue denials than it does to issue appeals. This is likely because denials at this stage should contain more information and justification.
Applicants can also continue the appeals process after a disability hearing if they’re unhappy with the result. Doing so will naturally add to the length of the process, but may be worthwhile if it ultimately results in an approval.
How to Get a Decision Faster
If the topic of “How long to get disability” is a cause of concern or preoccupation for you, keep in mind there are steps you can take to potentially hear back from the SSA sooner. They include:
- Providing thorough medical evidence and documentation upon submitting an application
- Carefully checking and rechecking an application to confirm all the information is accurate and there are no accidental omissions
- Getting letters from any and all doctors treating you for your disability
You may also reach out to the SSA directly to ask about your application’s status if you haven’t heard back in some time. It's possible the SSA needs more information but has not alerted you yet.
How Long Does it Take to Get Social Security Disability Benefits After Approval?
Once the SSA does approve your application, you may have another question: “How long does it take to get a disability check?”
The SSA will usually issue a benefits check within 60 days of approving an application. If you’re receiving SSDI, the SSA will pay out your benefits the month following their due date. For instance, if your payment is technically due in October 2023, the SSA will issue the payment for November.
How Long Will I Wait to Get Back Pay After Approval?
The SSA offers disability benefits beginning six months from the time a person’s disability began. However, the SSA may not approve an application for disability benefits until long after this. Thus, the SSA will also issue payments for back pay when necessary.
Maybe your disability began in January. You would then be eligible for disability benefits starting in July. If the SSA didn’t approve your application for benefits until October, your payment would account for the period between July and October. Back pay is usually part of a first disability benefits payment.
Are Disability Benefits Worth The Wait?
Everyone’s situation is different. That said, disability benefits can significantly reduce the burden someone might face when a disability prevents them from tending to their own needs and caring for themselves. You may have to wait some time to receive them, but they can help by providing you with a degree of security that may allow you to more easily focus on your health.
Make The Process Easier By Hiring A Disability Lawyer!
How long does a disability claim take? Remember, no one can say for sure. The timeline varies on a case-by-case basis.
That said, one way to potentially speed up the process while also simplifying your own life is to hire an attorney. Their understanding of the law could help you submit a more thorough application. Additionally, they can help you more easily navigate what might be a technically complex process. Get started today by taking the Free Case Evaluation on this page to get connected and speak with a lawyer who can help—all at zero cost to you.