Social Security Disability: How Long Does Disability Take?


There are a variety of conditions that may qualify you for disability benefits. While many believe this process should be simple and straight forward, many applicants receive denials. In 2019 there were 2,015,182 applicants for disability, of which only 723,858 received a benefit award.

How long does disability take? That depends on how many steps are necessary before you receive approval. One thing that does help speed up the process is using a personal injury attorney familiar with the law and process. 

The Application Process

When you schedule an appointment to apply for Social Security disability benefits you will receive a letter confirming your appointment along with information explaining the process. The initial interview takes at least one (1) hour. During that time the interviewer will help you complete the application for benefits and an adult disability report.

To quicken the interview process, you may complete the application and disability report online prior to the interview.  You will also need to complete a medical and job worksheet for this appointment. To make sure you have the best chance of success in receiving approval for disability, you need to use the assistance of a knowledgeable disability attorney.

Your attorney will know if your answers meet Social Security criteria. The letter from Social Security also includes a checklist of all documents you must submit with your application. Your attorney will check all documents prior to submission to make sure you have all necessary items, but do not overburden the agency with documents that are not relevant.

Disability Decision

To meet Social Security disability qualifications you must:

  • Be unable to perform substantial work due to your medical condition
  • Your disabling condition must have lasted or be anticipated to last a minimum of twelve (12) months, or
  • Be expected to result in your death

Your doctor’s claim that you have a disability does not automatically qualify you for Social Security benefits. Likewise, if you are receiving disability payments from your place of work or another agency, you will not necessarily meet Social Security criteria.

After receiving your application, state-level vocational and medical experts will review the evidence for your claim. They will request records from your medical providers and may have you complete additional forms. They may also require you to submit to an independent medical exam, which they pay for.

How Long Does Disability Take?

On average, you will receive a determination from Social Security in three (3) to five (5) months. The length generally depends on how long it takes them to receive your medical records and any other evidence necessary for a decision.

If you disagree with their determination you may appeal the decision. To file an appeal you must make your request in writing within sixty (60) days of the denial letter. If you did not use an attorney for the application, it is advisable you hire one for the appeal.

The attorney will review all the paperwork and documentation you submitted with your initial application and determine if changes need to be made. The attorney will be familiar with the appeal process and will work with Social Security on your behalf throughout the process.

The Appeal Process

The appeal process for social security is very specific and your disability attorney will know the appropriate steps. The first appeal is a Request for Reconsideration, Form SSA 561. You must file this request within sixty (60) days of receiving the denial for benefits.

You do not appear for a hearing on the reconsideration request. The record will be reviewed and a written determination will be sent by mail to both you and your attorney.

Second Appeal

If you do not agree with the reconsideration decision, you may then request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). You must file this written request using Form HA-501 within sixty (60)days of receiving the decision.

You will receive notice of the ALJ hearing at least seventy-five (75) days prior to the hearing. Your attorney or you will need to appear at a hearing. If you or your attorney fail to attend the hearing you may lose your benefits and ability to appeal.

This is a hearing process where you may have witnesses testify on your behalf. Your attorney must submit subpoena requests no less than ten (10) business days prior to the hearing. They must also submit all objections to issues, written evidence, and a pre-hearing written statement no less than five (5) business days prior to the hearing.

Third Appeal

If you do not agree with the decision made by the Administrative Law Judge you may submit a written appeal to the Appeals Council on Form HA-520 within sixty (60) days of the ALJ decision.

The Appeals Council reviews cases only when there is additional new evidence. The new evidence must have a reasonable probability of changing the outcome of the original decision. The Appeal Council will issue its decision within sixty (60) days of the request.

Fourth Appeal

If you do not agree with the decision of the Appeals Council you may then file a civil action with the U.S. District Court. This appeal must be made within sixty (60) days of receiving the Appeals Council decision. Once the federal court reviews the information they will make a determination regarding your benefits.

Length of Time for Final Determination

The length of time it takes for you to receive a final decision may be as short as three (3) months or take several years. The timeframe depends on whether you receive an award of benefits the first time you apply, or at any step during the appeal process. The number of appeals you need to file extends the time. 

Even if it takes months or years to receive approval, you will receive back pay from the time your disability began. For example, if after several appeals you win a benefits award in December 2020, you will receive back pay. If the determination is that your disability began on June 1, 2017, you will receive back pay beginning six months after your disability began and continuing forward.

How Much Disability Will I Receive:

The amount of monthly disability income you receive will be based on your average lifetime earnings that were covered by Social Security. This is the information you receive when you view your Social Security Statement regarding benefits.

Be aware that if you are the recipient of other government benefits such as public disability benefits, workers’ compensation, or pensions from government or foreign employment not covered by Social Security, there may be a reduction in benefits you receive.

Shorten Your Decision Time

How long does disability take is a difficult question to answer. One way to shorten the process is to hire an attorney who will assist you with every step of the process.

Sweet Lawyers offer 100% free consultations. We will analyze your case and can provide you with our legal opinion of your claim.  We handle Social Security cases on a contingency basis and do not collect a fee unless we win your case. Social Security has a cap of 25% or no more than $6,000 on any back-benefits for attorney fees, so you know upfront the maximum amount we can receive from your benefits for our services.

Contact Sweet Lawyers today at 1-800-674-854 to schedule a consultation or use contact us using our online form. The sooner you call, the earlier we can begin the process for you to receive benefits.

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