Ask Atticus: How Long Does It Take to Get Disability?
September 30, 2022 · 2 min read
I’m dealing with autoimmune issues that keep me out of work right now. I applied for disability benefits in May and 6 months later I’ve still heard nothing! I know it can take a while but this process is so draining. I’m struggling to pay my bills, and I’m trying to hold down another job to make ends meet. How long does it usually take to get disability benefits? And if I get rejected, how quickly can I apply for reconsideration?
Sincerely, Waiting and Wondering
Dear Waiting and Wondering,
Waiting is one of the hardest things in life and unfortunately the disability program requires a lot of it. As a lawyer, that’s why I always say patience is one of my finest attributes.
On average, it takes claimants between 2 and 2.5 years to start receiving disability benefits after submitting their application. You will hear back from the Social Security Administration (SSA) sooner than that about your initial application, but unfortunately about 71% get rejected. This requires you to file for reconsideration, extending the waiting period for benefits.
Why does SSDI take so long?
Let’s look at the timeline to understand why it could take you 2.5 years to get SSDI (though waiting periods can vary by state):
Initial application and evaluation: You’ll likely hear back on your initial disability application within four to six months. The exact time depends on how long it takes to gather all your medical records and other necessary information. Disability Determination Services (DDS) may reach out asking for more details or materials during this time frame.
Reconsideration: If your application is rejected you’ll have 60 days to submit for reconsideration. The SSA, which handles reconsideration, takes more than three months, on average, to process these cases. The SSA rejects about 84% of reconsiderations, which takes us to the court hearing.
Court hearing: You’ll usually have to wait about 1 to 1.5 years to get a court hearing after the SSA’s decision on your reconsideration.
Final decision: After the hearing you’ll get your final decision from the judge within one to two months.
When will I get my first SSDI payment?
The good news is that when you do get approved, you’ll get your first SSDI payment within 60 days. Your first benefits check includes all your back pay. This is retroactive pay for benefits you would have received if your application was approved sooner. Back pay only starts with the sixth month after you filed for disability. So if it takes 24 months to receive approval, you’ll receive a check that includes 18 months of back pay.
After your first disability check, payments are made the month after each month that you’re eligible. For example, you’ll receive your June benefits in July. The day of that month that you receive payment varies based on your birthday. (Learn more about SSDI payment schedules for 2022 and 2023.)
What can I do to get disability benefits faster?
While you can’t change the pace of the system, there are a few things you can do to ensure your application goes as seamlessly as it can:
Keep track of your status. The SSA offers an online portal to track your application. You’ll see what stage of the process your application is in and average timelines (e.g. “On average it takes 198 days to make a decision.”). Be aware of your status and check back regularly, but remember that the process can move slowly and the portal may not update often.
Respond promptly. If DDS asks you for any additional documentation, send it as quickly as you can. You’ll have 10 days to do so. If possible, fax your documents instead of mailing them to speed up the process.
Check up. Call the office to ensure they receive any materials you’ve sent. Even better, if your lawyer can fax the documents, you’ll have a fax receipt to ensure they’ve gotten it.
Don’t miss the reconsideration window. If your application is rejected, you have 60 days to file for reconsideration. If you miss that deadline, you’ll have to start the entire process over.
Work with a lawyer. A lawyer can help manage the disability process for you. They’ll keep track of deadlines, check in with DDS or the SSA to understand the status of the case, and represent you as needed during the court hearing. Applicants with lawyers are also three times more likely to win their claim. I can’t overstate it enough: a lawyer is your best ally in understanding the system and winning benefits.
One more thing: Dire need status
Now, Waiting and Wondering, I want to mention one more thing. It is possible to file for ‘Dire Need’ status, which will move your case up the line. Dire Need means claimants are in a position of lacking food, medicine, medical care, or adequate shelter, and don’t have the resources to obtain these things. When working with a lawyer, be sure to tell them if you meet any of these qualifications, and they can work with the SSA to potentially fast-track your case.
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Sydney Hershenhorn is an attorney on Atticus’s Client Experience team. She‘s a licensed attorney, a graduate of New York Law School, and has counseled hundreds of people seeking disability benefits. In her free time, she enjoys cooking and spending time in nature.
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