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

Jackie Jakab, Attorney
By Jackie Jakab, Attorney

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

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?

In most cases, it takes from two to two and a half years to get a disability decision. The sooner you apply, the sooner you can set that process in motion.

Let’s look at the time that goes into each phase of the application process.

Initial application and evaluation

You will receive an initial decision on your disability application four to six months after submission.

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 make sure the DDS has them to keep your application moving forward.

Reconsideration and hearing

Since the DDS rejects 63.9% 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 in that time, 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 2021, they spent an average of 147 days.

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

The SSA rejects about 90.8% of reconsiderations, and at that point, you’ll schedule a court hearing for an appeal. This hearing happens around one to one and a half years after the SSA’s decision on your reconsideration.

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 a month to a month and a half.

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

How long does it take to get Social Security disability benefits after approval?

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

They pay SSDI the month after the month they’re due. For example, they’ll pay a payment due in June 2022 in July 2022.

The SSA pays on a set schedule determined by the day you were born:

  • 1st through the 10th: Second Wednesday of the month
  • 11th through the 20th: Third Wednesday of the month
  • After the 20th: Fourth Wednesday of the month

For instance, someone born on May 6th will receive their first payment on the second Wednesday of the month after SSA owes payment to them.

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

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

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 2021, payments would be due starting in October 2021. Then, if you get approval in April 2022, 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 helps people find the ideal lawyer for their 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?
Jackie Jakab, Attorney
Jackie Jakab, AttorneyJackie 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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