Average Length of Social Security Disability Claims
The Social Security Disability claims process can last anywhere from a few months to a few years. Most cases end up going to a hearing, which usually takes place around 18 months after the initial application for SSDI. If you are denied at that level, and want to appeal further, that final appeal usually takes another year.
- The Initial Level
Right when you file your Social Security Disability claim, you are in the “initial level” of the claim process. After you fill out the application, a case manager at your state’s Disability Determination Services office (DDS) will contact your doctors and collect your medical records. Using those records, they will make an initial determination of whether or not you are disabled.
Most claims are denied after 3 to 4 months. Serious disabilities, such as terminal cancers, are usually awarded quickly. Only around 1 in 3 claims (33%) are awarded at this level. Every claim varies, however, and you may hear back from the SSA sooner or later than 3 months. If you have been denied at the initial level, you have 60 days to file an appeal for “reconsideration.”
- Reconsideration Level
Similar to the initial level, the majority of reconsideration level appeals are also denied. This is because there is usually not enough of a change in your medical condition during the period where you initially apply for SSDI and when you file your first appeal. Most of your medical records will be the same, so the case manager at the DDS will be using the same evidence to make their decision.v
Reconsideration level usually only lasts around 2 months. On average, only around 1 in 7 (15%) reconsideration level claims will be awarded. If your reconsideration appeal is denied, you have 60 days to appeal to the “hearing” level.
- Hearing Level
The hearing level is normally the longest phase of the Social Security Disability claims process. During this phase, it is important to continue seeking as much medical treatment as possible to give the Administrative Law Judge and the rest of the SSA staff enough new evidence to change their minds. About 3 months or so before your hearing date, you will receive a letter in the mail telling you when your hearing is.
In 2015, the national average wait time before a hearing was 13.3 months, and you usually receive a decision about 2 months after the hearing. In Rhode Island, the wait is only 11 months, and in Massachusetts it is 12 months. In some states, like Florida, the wait is almost 18 months.
The good news is that, on average, around 50% of hearings result in an approval. If you hire a disability lawyer to represent you at your hearing, you are about twice as likely to have your award approved. If you were denied, you can file a final appeal to have your case heard by the Appeals Council.
- Appeals Council Level
This is a “last-ditch” effort to get an SSDI award. At this level, you can submit new evidence to the SSA, but primarily Appeals Council will review the evidence from your hearing, as well as the Judge’s decision, in order to determine if there were any technical or legal issues with the denial. They are looking to make sure that Judges are properly considering all the evidence and that they are not abusing their discretion.
It takes on average 12 months to receive a decision from the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council has 3 options:
- Denial. 75% of the time the SSA denies this final appeal.
- Remand. About 20% of the time the SSA will send the case back to the Administrative Law Judge and ask them to hear the case again. This does not mean that your claim will be approved – it only allows the Judge to take another look at the claim.
- Approved. Around 5% of the time the Appeals Council will determine that the Administrative Law Judge made an error and will reverse their decision and award you SSDI benefits.
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Why Do Social Security Disability Claims Take So Long?
- Millions of Applications. Every year, millions of people file a claim for SSDI, and each claim must be taken seriously before it is awarded or denied.
- Fraudulent Claims. Not every claim is serious. Many people file SSDI claims hoping to “cheat” the system. These individuals are not disabled, but do not want to work, so they file an SSDI claim hoping that they can get free money. Almost all of these fraudulent claims are denied, but each and every claim has to be properly evaluated before it gets denied.
- Heavy Caseloads. The SSA has limited resources available, which means that the people that work there often have heavy caseloads. This results in case managers and Administrative Law Judges handling far more cases than they can evaluate in a reasonable amount of time.
Why Hire Us?
If you are suffering from a disability that keeps you from working for at least a year, you may be entitled to Social Security Disability Benefits. Our experienced Rhode Island and Massachusetts disability lawyers have been handling these kinds of claims for years and they charge no fee unless you win your claim and receive past due benefits. For a free (no obligation) case evaluation, call our toll free number or fill out a contact form on our website.