Monday, April 07, 2008

Decision for Social Security Disability — How long must I wait?

There is no set timeframe in which a claim for social security disability (SSD) or supplemental security income (SSI) must be decided. Unlike Medicaid cases, which must by law be decided within three months of the application date, SSD and SSI cases are not governed by any deadline.

This can be understandably frustrating to those filing for disability benefits, as they are most certainly coping with financial difficulties (otherwise they would not be seeking disability income), and would like to know exactly when (or if) they can expect to receive their first disability check. It is certainly one of the most common questions posed by disability applicants when they first submit their claim to social security.

There is no way to honestly answer this question on an individual basis, although the social security administration (SSA) does provide each claimant a date by which it is estimated they will receive a decision. This estimation is, of course, only an average; most disability decisions are received in approximately four months after the application is filed, but this does not hold true for everyone.

In fact, SSA has no way of knowing the actual number of days it will take for a claim to be evaluated. Disability decisions are not made within the federal social security administration, but are instead forwarded to the state agency responsible for making medical evaluations regarding a claimant’s disability, most commonly called disability determination services (DDS), but known by other names as well, depending upon the state. There are a number of variables that can affect the processing time of a claim once it arrives at DDS, including case backlogs, difficulty obtaining medical records from physicians and medical facilities, the need to schedule additional tests or exams to corroborate (or disprove) the claimant’s medical condition, etc.

So, the most an applicant for SSD or SSI can hope for is that their case is decided within the average period of time quoted by SSA: about four months for a decision on the initial application, four months for a decision on a reconsideration appeal (if the claim is denied the first time you can file a request for reconsideration, asking social security to review the medical evidence again), and up to two years before a hearing with an administrative law judge is granted if DDS rejects both the initial application and the first appeal.

True, there are some disability cases that are decided in a matter of weeks; however, these are in the minority. Most cases will take a few months, and some can drag on for over a year, prior to requesting a hearing. Unfortunately, there’s just no way to know for sure the date that you will receive that first disability payment, much less a decision at any level of the process, regardless of the nature of your disability or the extent of your financial need.

Return to the Social Security Disability SSI Benefits Blog

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