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How Long Does It Take to Get Approved for Disability Benefits?

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
July 13, 2022  ·  5 min read

“When will I get help?” is one of the most common questions people ask when applying for disability.

After all, you’re going through this process to get the benefits you need, and you could use that support as soon as possible.

We’ll explain how long the typical disability application process takes, the length of each phase, and how long you’ll wait to get paid after approval.

How long does it take to get a disability decision?

According to the Social Security Administration, it can take seven to eight months to get an initial disability decision after applying.

If the SSA denies your initial application and you decide to appeal, the appeal process can take almost two years before you get a final decision. The sooner you apply, the sooner you can set that process in motion.

Let’s look at each phase of the application process and how long you can expect to wait.

Initial application and evaluation

You will receive an initial decision on your disability application three to six months after submitting your application.

During this time, your Disability Determination Services (DDS) office may ask for more details and materials. You’ll have 10 days to submit any of that supplementary paperwork. 

To make this stage go as smoothly as possible, call your DDS office to confirm they receive your application and materials right after you send them.

If you have a disability lawyer, they will fax the materials and use fax receipts to ensure the DDS has them to keep your application moving forward.

Reconsideration and hearing

Since the DDS rejects 63.2% of initial disability applications, most applicants wait another year and a half to two years after the DDS’s first decision to get benefits.

After your first rejection, you’ll have 60 days to submit for reconsideration — your appeal to have your application considered again. If you don’t apply for reconsideration within 60 days, you will have to start your application over.

The Social Security Administration (SSA), the federal office that handles reconsiderations, takes at least 100 days to process them. In 2022, each reconsideration spent an average of 183 days in processing.

Once the SSA processes your reconsideration, they’ll send you another acceptance or rejection.

The SSA rejects about 86.8% of reconsiderations, and at that point, you’ll schedule a court hearing for an appeal. This hearing happens around a year to a year and a half later.

You will receive your hearing date at least 75 days in advance. If you have a lawyer, they’ll confirm the hearing date and prepare materials with you.

After you attend the hearing, you’ll get a final decision from the judge within about 90 days.

Applicants with certain conditions may get approval on their first application and won’t have to go through reconsideration or a hearing. This situation happens in rare cases.

Expedited reinstatement

If you were previously approved for SSDI benefits, but lost your benefits because you went back to work, you may be eligible for expedited reinstatement. Also known as the “five-year rule,” expedited reinstatement means you won’t have to go through the application process if you need benefits again within a five-year period.

Learn more about working while on disability.

How long does it take to get your first Social Security disability check?

Once the SSA approves your benefits, you’ll get your first payment within 60 days.

SSA pays SSDI the month after it’s due. For example, they’ll pay a payment due in June 2024 in July 2024.

The SSA pays on a set schedule determined by the day you were born. Here’s when the SSA will send out your check:

  • If you were born on the 1st through the 10th: Second Wednesday of the following month

  • If you were born on the 11th through the 20th: Third Wednesday of the following month

  • If you were born after the 20th: Fourth Wednesday of the following month

For instance, someone born on May 6th will receive their first payment on the second Wednesday of the following month.

SSDI’s five-month waiting period

There is a five-month waiting period for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which means the SSA won’t start paying you until five months after you first become disabled. If you apply for SSDI one month after the onset of your disability, and your claim is processed within three months, you’ll have to wait an additional month. 

In reality, it will likely take more than five months for the SSA to process your application, but this is yet another reason to file as soon as possible.

How long will I wait to get back pay after approval? 

You will get back pay at the same time as your first check.

For SSDI, the SSA officially considers benefits to begin during the sixth month after the date they determined that you became disabled. They count back pay as any payments due since that sixth month.

For example, if they consider that your disability started in April 2023, payments would be due starting in October 2023. Then, if you get approval in April 2024, you’d have six months of back pay owed to you.

If you have ALS, the SSA starts benefits on the date you became disabled, increasing the amount of back pay you’ll get.

Make the process easier by hiring a disability lawyer

The disability application process is long and complex, and about half of applicants who make it to the hearing phase get approved for benefits. A good lawyer will give you the best chance to win your hearing (you’re three times more likely to win benefits with legal representation).

Atticus can help find the ideal lawyer for your disability case who will help you get through each phase of the application. All our services and advice are always free.

Find a lawyer with Atticus today.

Ready to get benefits today?

Frequently asked questions about getting approved for disability

How long does it take to get approved for disability?

It can take seven to eight months to receive an initial decision on your disability application, and if your application is denied and you decide to appeal, the entire process can take around two years. On the bright side, your first check will include months — or even years — of back pay benefits.

Does my medical condition affect my chances of winning disability?

It is easier to qualify for Social Security disability benefits with certain conditions. For example, the SSA will automatically approve a terminal illness but is less likely to approve disability for mental health conditions like depression. Learn more about what conditions qualify for SSDI and SSI.

Can I increase my chances of winning benefits?

Your two best strategies for success are to have strong medical records and to get professional help from a disability lawyer. The SSA may approve your application faster if you have robust medical documentation of your condition. Applicants with lawyers are also three times more likely to win benefits.

Is it easier to apply for SSDI or SSI?

SSDI and SSI use the same application and have the same medical requirements. The technical requirements (income and work history) do vary by program. If you’re unsure which to apply for, try both and let the SSA decide which you technically qualify for.

Which will pay me more, SSI or SSDI?

SSDI pays more than SSI. The maximum possible SSDI benefit is $3,822 in 2024, and the maximum SSI benefit is only $943. You’re unlikely to get the maximum, though. Learn more about how SSDI and SSI are calculated.

Does where I live affect how much I get from SSDI or SSI?

No, where you live doesn’t affect how your disability benefits are calculated. Average benefits amounts do vary by state, but that’s because of differences in income, work history, or other personal factors.

See what you qualify for

How long has your condition made it hard to work?

Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney

Jackie Jakab

Lead Attorney

Jackie Jakab is Atticus’s Legal Director. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and has counseled thousands of people seeking disability benefits.
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