When applying for Social Security disability benefits, getting approved and receiving payments may be an urgent need. Yet the process for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claims can be long and difficult.
It’s hard, if not impossible, to predict exactly how long your claim will take from start to finish.
While the Social Security Administration (SSA) may approve clear-cut disability cases, this isn’t true for most claimants. Nearly two-thirds of those who apply are initially denied and have to go through multiple appeals, which can take additional months or years.
Each stage of your case will take time. Taking the right steps in proving your claim can help things move as quickly as possible. On the other hand, mistakes can lead to more crucial time spent waiting.
Yet, it’s important for claimants to not feel left in the dark. The time table of when you receive a decision on your benefits may impact your family and financial planning.
Consulting a Social Security disability attorney can also help ensure you have the best possibility to win benefits at each stage and avoid mistakes and delays.
How long will your Social Security disability claim take? Once approved, when will you receive your first check? Here are the factors to consider when seeking answers to these questions.
How Long Does It Take to Get Social Security Disability Once Approved?
When you’re approved for disability benefits, the SSA sends you a determination letter with the date your first payment will arrive. Usually, this is the beginning of the next month after approval.
Your first payment may include any back payments you are owed for the months after you applied for benefits. Back payments may be sent to you in a lump sum, if you are applying for SSDI. If you filed for SSI, you will receive back payments in installments instead.
However, the time it takes to receive benefits is a small part of how long you may spend awaiting a final decision.
Average Wait Time:
The first check is usually paid the first month after approval. Check your determination letter for an exact date.
The Social Security Review Process
Chances are, if you’re applying for Social Security benefits, you’ve already been or will be out of work for at least a year. To receive SSDI or SSI benefits, you must be able to medically prove that your condition prevents you from working in the U.S. economy—which includes not just your current job but any work you’re determined qualified to do.
An initial review can take 3 to 5 months on average before you receive a decision, according to the SSA. Yet there are many factors that can cause this wait to be longer or shorter.
A few things you can do to ensure your review goes as quickly as possible are:
- Complete and file all paperwork on time.
- Provide all required medical evidence—including testing and imaging, medications, therapies, doctors’ visit notes, and written opinions from doctors proving how your disability prevents you from working.
- Don’t miss any scheduled phone calls, appointments, or examinations that would delay the process.
- Consult a disability attorney about any special circumstances that could speed up the process.
Average Wait Time:
An initial review takes 3 to 5 months on average, according to the SSA. This varies based on the circumstances of your case. Talk to your attorney about what timeline to expect.
Appealing a Social Security Disability Denial and Preparing for Next Steps
If like many claimants your benefits are initially denied, the next step is to appeal the decision. At each stage, you typically have 6 months to file for appeal. However, it’s important to file as quickly as possible, since appeals can take months or years to resolve.
The stages of appeal include:
- Reconsideration by another SSA reviewer
- A hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
- A review by the Appeals Council
- A federal court review
Reconsideration can take roughly 1 to 3 months on average, according to government data. This is because the reviewer should already have most of the information they need to make a determination. However, a majority of people are not approved at this stage.
Your greatest chance of reversing a denial is at the hearing stage.
How long you will wait to have a hearing and receive a decision from the judge will vary greatly based on your claim.
For instance, with strong medical evidence, you may request an on-the-record (OTR) review. This means the judge looks at the evidence prior to a hearing and may approve the claim. Or you may be in dire medical or financial need, which can help expedite the process.
If you must have a hearing, this can take up to or over a year to get a hearing date. The judge will then take weeks or possibly months to make their decision.
If you must go through other stages of appeal, this will add more time to your claim. All in all it can take anywhere from months to years to resolve.
Here’s what you can do while you wait:
- Continue receiving medical treatment for your condition.
- Notify your attorney and the SSA about any medical updates.
- Keep current medical records (within 90 days).
- Stay in communication with your attorney and the SSA.
- File appeals as quickly as possible.
- Prepare for hearings, and submit any new medical evidence.
Average Wait Time:
The bottom line is that when you apply for disability benefits, you should prepare for a lengthy road to approval. Getting benefits can take months or years. Each case is unique. In some instances you may be quickly approved when your disability is easily provable or your need is dire, but this isn’t the case for many claimants.
The right attorney will advocate for you and help you build a strategy to navigate the process, no matter how long it takes.
You often won’t pay up-front attorney fees when consulting a Social Security disability lawyer, and will only pay a federally fixed percentage of your initial back pay if you win. This means you can access the experience and counsel of disability experts from the beginning of your case to the end.
If you are filing for Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income, Affleck and Gordon can help. We’ve been helping people in Georgia just like you for over 45 years. Sign up for a free case evaluation, or call us (404) 990-3945.