Friday, July 08, 2011

How long does it take to get Disability benefits?

According to the commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Michael Astrue, it currently takes, on average across the country, about 367 days, a bit more than a year, to receive benefits, assuming an individual is approved.

The goal of SSA is to reduce the wait time to 270 days or nine months within two years. Will this happen? No one really knows as some of the factors mediating this goal would include future funding levels and the current operational efficiency of social security field offices, which, currently, are taking a real beating as attrition is not being properly addressed. For some time, it has been common knowledge that SSA plans to only replace 1 worker for every three social security workers who either quit or retire.

To the agency's credit, the wait time for disability benefits (I always have to throw in "for those who have been approved" since the fact still remains that approximately 70 percent of all claims are denied at the initial claim, or disability application level, and approximately 87 percent of all first appeals, i.e. request for reconsideration appeals, are likewise denied) has declined from a national average peak in 2008 of 514 days.

However, despite the improvements made in dropping average disability benefit delivery times, averages can be deceptive. At the very least, updates on SSA averages should not be taken too seriously by individuals who are filing for disability, have already filed for disability, or are considering applying for disability, and who might use such information as part of their financial decision-making process. An "average" in many cases will bear little semblance to the situation experienced by a typical applicant who files a claim.

So, assuming that an individual is not lucky enough to have their SSD claim or SSI claim (or concurrent claim) approved at the disability application level, how long will it take? Again, no one can truly predict. However, an initial claim that does not experience too many hiccups (inordinate wait times for records, case processing postponements due to certain medical events such as a heart attack or stroke or eye surgery, an unusual number of consultative exams being ordered, etc) can usually be determined within 120 days.

If the decision that is reached is a denial (and in most cases it is), and the applicant files a reconsideration appeal (and they should), they can often expect to receive another decision within 60 days. If that decision is also a denial (recons are denied at an even higher rate, of course, than initial claims), and the claimant decides to file a request for a disability hearing (and they should), the question then becomes "how long will it take to get a disability hearing scheduled?"

Waiting for a social security hearing to be scheduled is where the real wait begins. And that is addressed on one of the posts following this one.

Return to the Social Security Disability SSI Benefits Blog

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