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How much longer will I have to wait for my disability decision?

Many Social Security Disability claimants wait months or years to be approved by the Social Security Administration. They are sick, tired, unable to work and running out of money. If you are facing a financial crisis, you need a disability decision now, not months from now.

Why does it take the SSA so long to make a Disability Decision?

So why is the wait so long and is there anything you can do to expedite or speed up the process? First let’s talk about why it takes so long for the Social Security Administration to make their Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income decisions.

1. The massive number of disability applicants

It is no secret that many Americans are out of work. What many people do not consider is that as the unemployment rate increases, the number of disability applicants increases too. Many claimants who have been trudging through their jobs, sick and disabled, have now been laid-off and instead of seeking new employment (or seeking new employment and not finding a job), they have decided to apply for either SSDI or SSI benefits.

Given the high number of claimants and the limited number of Social Security Administration examiners, there are simply not enough workers to process all the disability claims in a timely manner.

2. The Lengthy process to request medical records

Ideally, claimants provide the Social Security Administration with accurate medical source information (names and phone numbers of their doctors, date of services, etc.) and the SSA can take this information and quickly request medical records. If there is any missing information and the SSA has to contact the claimant multiple times to get the information they need, this can add days or weeks onto the medical requesting process.

Assuming the SSA has all of the information they need to make the medical records request, the hospitals and doctor’s offices may not send the SSA the records they need to make their disability determination for weeks.

3. Limited number of Disability Examiners to examine SSDI or SSI cases

After waiting weeks to get the claimant’s medical records, the disability examiner will begin to review the claimant’s SSI or SSDI file and determine if there is enough medical information to make a disability determination. What if there is not enough information? The DDS examiner will have to send the claimant to a consultative examiner for a consultative examination.

4. Waiting to see a Consultative Examiner

Getting consultative examinations scheduled, getting the results back to the examiner and having the examiner review the results all takes time.

5. Waiting for a Social Security Disability Hearing

Unfortunately, up to 70% of claimants are denied at the initial application level. Another 80% may have their SSI or SSDI applications denied at the Reconsideration level. What does this mean? If the claimant appeals their disability denials a large percentage will end up requesting a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge at a Social Security Disability hearing.

The amount of time a claimant must wait for their Social Security Disability hearing can vary based on where the claimant lives and how many cases each judge in their region is waiting to hear. Unfortunately, in some parts of the country it is not unusual for claimants to wait 12 months for a hearing to be scheduled.

Expediting the Disability Decision

So far most of the information provided has been discouraging. Maybe you want to know what you can do to decrease your wait. The good news is there are several simple steps every claimant can take.

• Always provide accurate information about your medical history, work history or other relevant personal data. The less work the SSA has to do the better. Whatever you can do to make the job of the SSA easier will only improve your processing time. This includes answering phone calls promptly and sending all the information the SSA requests as soon as possible.

• Do you need to gather your own medical records? No, the SSA is required to gather your records to process your claim, but if you have recent medical records you should make copies of them and give them to the SSA.

• Hire a disability lawyer. Do you have to have a Social Security Disability attorney to win Social Security Disability benefits? No, in fact, many claimants win benefits without legal representation, but if you are very ill and do not understand the process or you do not have the energy to make sure everything is done right, talk to a disability lawyer.

• Make sure you understand what you need to prove to win benefits. I am always surprised by the number of claimants who apply for SSDI or SSI and have no idea what it means to be disabled, whether or not they can work, what non-medical criteria they must meet to qualify for SSI or SSDI or whether or not their condition is severe enough to win benefits. Take the time to review information provided on either this site or on the official SSA site (

Although in recent years the Social Security Administration did create some new programs and planned to hire new workers to handle their increased back log of disability cases, many of these plans had to be scrapped due to budget constraints. The problem is not getting better; unfortunately, it is getting worse.