How Long Does a Social Security Disability Case Take?

When applying for Social Security disability benefits, there can be multiple stages a claim may go through to get a decision.  There is no set time frame for a Social Security disability claim to be approved or denied.  Each level may vary for the time it takes to receive a decision, and the time it takes for a claim to be resolved will be determined by how far into the appeals process a claim must go.

Once the application is filed, the initial disability determination on average may take three to four months. During this stage, the Disability Determination Services (DDS) will gather all relevant medical records and any other information to decide the claim.  This evidence is then reviewed by medical experts and adjudicators in order to determine technical and medical eligibility.

If a claim is denied at the initial level, the first level of appeal is reconsideration.  At reconsideration, new evidence is gathered and considered in conjunction with all previously submitted medical evidence.  A new decision is then made at reconsideration, and this may take an additional three to four months.

If a claim is then denied upon reconsideration, the claimant may then request their claim be reviewed at the hearing level with an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).  At this level, the ALJ will gather all new medical records and the claimant will be given an opportunity to appear at a hearing to testify.  When a hearing is requested, the time it takes to hold the hearing and receive a decision will vary depending on the local hearing office. For example, in Arkansas, there are two local Offices of Disability Hearings and Review, one in Little Rock and one in Fort Smith. The average wait time for a hearing in Arkansas is 9.5 months, and the average processing time is roughly 387 days.

If the ALJ denies your claim, the last step in the administrative process is to file an appeal to the Appeals Council (AC).  All appeals across the country are processed by the same Appeals Council.  It can take up to a year or longer for the AC to make a determination.  The AC will make a thorough review of all the medical evidence and testimony taken at the Hearing.  The AC may approve your case, or they may remand the claim back to the ALJ for further review.

If the Appeals Council denies your request for review and determines that the ALJ’s decision was correct, you have exhausted all administrative remedies.  The next step would be to appeal the decision to federal district court.  The average time to receive a decision in federal court is about 8 months, but this will also vary depending on your local federal district courts.  The federal magistrate Judge may uphold the ALJ’s original decision or your claim may be remanded to the ALJ for further review.

The important thing to remember when awaiting a decision in your claim is that all the wait times above are just estimates.  There are many variables that come into play at each level that could alter the wait time for a decision.  Every case is unique with different variables that are taken into consideration, so you will want to avoid comparing your wait times to those you may know who are or have been through the claim process before.

Although a Rainwater, Holt & Sexton attorney cannot make the SSA decide your claim faster, the attorney will know when special rules or regulations may apply in your case that can be used to request an off-the-record review. These special rules do not apply to every case, and do not guarantee positive decisions, but it’s important to have a representative to know when they can be utilized. In addition, statistics show that you are more likely to be approved for benefits when you have an experienced attorney representing you in your claim.

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