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How Long Does it Take to Get Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income (SSI)? What is the disability process like?

How Long Does it Take to Get Social Security Disability? The process of trying to get disability can often be a long and frustrating one. Having an experienced disability attorney can help you avoid unnecessary delays and can improve your odds of being successful.

The average length of time that it takes to get disability is approximately a year and a half. However, sometimes people are awarded disability in a few months and sometimes it can take over three years. The information below explains the general procedural process for getting disability.

Application Stage

The first step to obtaining disability is filing an application. It is advisable that you utilize the help of an experienced disability law firm in filing an application. At the application stage various forms must be drafted and medical records must be collected and submitted. Having a law firm involved can speed up the time that it takes to process these forms and can also speed up the time it takes to collect your records. Currently, Social Security estimates that it takes around six to eight months for a decision on the initial application. In practice it seems like the time at this stage has been increasing. Why does it take so long? The answer largely has to do with the federal budget and the number of employees at Social Security who are available to work on these claims. Last year, close to two million people applied for disability. Social Security grants about 39% of cases at the initial stage. We find that a large portion of the individuals being granted at the initial stage are over age 50, have mental health problems that have required many psychiatric admissions, or have a terminal disease.

Reconsideration Stage

If you do not win at the initial stage, and again, most people do not; then you can file an appeal called a request for reconsideration. This stage seems to take about five months or so on average. The allowance rate at this stage is only 15%. In recent years, there has been discussion of eliminating this stage of the disability process as it extends the time to adjudicate claims and very few claims are granted at reconsideration. At this stage more forms are drafted, and more medical records are collected and submitted.

Hearing Stage

If you get denied at the reconsideration stage, you have a right to request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. The hearing involves giving testimony under oath before a judge about the nature of your disabilities and how they impact your ability to work. Usually, Social Security will also hire a job/vocational expert to give testimony about various work place restrictions. Our attorneys will write a brief to the judge before your hearing to argue your case, we will prepare you for what happens at your hearing- including what the judge is likely to ask you, we will attend the hearing with you, we will do an opening statement arguing your case, we will ask you questions at the hearing aimed at ensuring that all of your important symptoms are brought to light, and we will cross examine any of Social Security’s experts. A large percentage of the people who receive disability had to have a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge in order to get it. Most cases that involve attorneys end up at this hearing stage.

Traditionally, the longest wait for disability occurred while waiting for an Administrative Law Judge hearing. However, this has vastly changed. Years ago, it was common for disability claimants to wait over two years for a hearing with a judge- plus over a year at the initial and reconsideration stages. In Akron, Ohio it now only takes about seven months to get a hearing with a judge after the reconsideration denial. Every judge in every city is different when it comes to how often they grant or deny a case. Nationally, 45% of cases are approved at this level. However, the odds of approval are significantly higher with an experienced attorney. Individual judge grant and denial rates are published at

Appeals Council Stage

It is difficult to win a disability case if you lose at the Administrative Law Judge stage. Therefore, it is not a good idea to wait until after the hearing to hire a lawyer. If an Administrative Law Judge denies a case, then you can file an appeal with Social Security’s Appeals Council. At this stage, however, the evaluation is not simply whether or not you are disabled. Instead, in order to be successful, a claimant must generally be able to prove that there was an error of law or that one of Social Security’s regulations were violated. Nationally, only about 50,000 cases a year go to this level of review. The Appeals Council generally does not grant a case. Instead, if an error of law is shown, they will typically vacate the Administrative Law Judge decision and send the case back for a fresh hearing. This only happens 13% of the time. This is called a remand. The Appeals Council process usually takes about 10 months or so. 83% of cases before the Appeals Council are simply denied.

Federal Court Stage

If you are denied by the Appeals Council, you can continue your appeal by suing the Social Security Administration in Federal Court. At this stage, you are considered a plaintiff and Social Security is considered a defendant. Your lawyer represents you and governmental lawyers represent Social Security. A Federal Judge presides over the case and will decide the issue at hand. At this level, it is again not just an evaluation of whether or not a claimant is disabled. Instead, it generally must be proven that Social Security broke one of its regulations, or it must be shown that no reasonable person could find the way in which the Administrative Law Judge did. Nationally, about 15,000 cases are filed in Federal Court against Social Security per year. While there is a 61% rate of remand (which means a decision is vacated and a fresh hearing held – not necessarily won), this higher percentage is because lawyers are far more selective over what cases they take to Federal Court. This is necessary because these cases must be able to withstand opposing counsel’s argument, are generally limited to showing an error of law, and require a lot of time to prosecute. The Federal Court process usually takes a little bit over a year.

Please be advised that if you are not successful at any of the levels of review, you almost always will have the option of filing a new claim with new evidence.

If you are considering applying for disability, it is best to get an experienced disability lawyer involved as early in the process as possible. If you wait too long to hire a lawyer, you can inhibit their ability to provide you with the best representation. This will only decrease your chances of ultimately being successful.

Please call us if you are considering applying for or appealing a disability case. Or you can review our Social Security disability checklist which makes your disability claim easier. We offer free consultations, and we are only paid if you win.

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