If you are like most people applying for social security disability, you would much rather be working. But, because of your medical condition you are simply unable to hold down a full-time job anymore. As such, waiting for the Social Security Administration to decide your case can seem painfully long. Extended wait times often create additional financial and emotional stress on a family. But, unfortunately, the majority of applicants can expect to wait for almost two years before receiving a final decision on their claim.
Typically, an application for SSDI or SSI benefits begins at your local Social Security Administration field office. You can also apply online at www.ssa.gov/disabilityssi/. Your local office will assist you in completing the initial application and will gather the necessary information about your work history and medical conditions to make an initial decision. One can expect an initial decision on their disability application to take approximately 2-3 months. Statistically, the majority of claims are denied at this initial level. In South Carolina, approximately 69% of all applicants are denied at the initial level.
What if I Am Denied?
If denied at the first level, the applicant has sixty days to begin the appeal process. There are four stages of the appeals process. The first step is a request for reconsideration. At this level, an applicant has the opportunity to submit additional evidence about their case and the file is reviewed by a different DDS (disability determination services) examiner. The denial rate at this level is even greater than that at the initial level with approximately 13% of all cases in South Carolina approved at this level. If denied at this first level of appeal, an applicant is given 60 more days to appeal the decision and request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). At this third level, your case is assigned to an ALJ at the Office of Disability and Adjudication Review (ODAR).
Due in large part to the high volume of cases being referred to ALJs, the wait time for a hearing before an ALJ can be a year or more. According to recent statistics provided by the Social Security Administration, the wait time for hearings in the Greenville South Carolina ODAR office was 16 months. While there are ways to speed up a hearing date such as writing a dire need letter or requesting an on-the-record review, the majority of applicants can expect to wait anywhere from 12-16 months for a hearing. During this time, it is important to continue all necessary medical treatment with your doctors as you are allowed the opportunity to submit new and additional medical records and other evidence to support your claim.
At the hearing, you will have the opportunity to tell the ALJ about your medical conditions and symptoms. The ALJ will review your medical records, work history, and the reasons why your application for disability was initially denied. Generally speaking, a decision from the ALJ takes approximately 60-90 days. If denied at the hearing level, an applicant has the right to appeal their case further to the Social Security Administration Appeals Council. The Appeals Council can uphold the ALJ’s decision, or it can reverse or modify the decision. The Appeals Council may also decide to send the case back to the ALJ for a new hearing. Finally, if an applicant still disagrees with the decision, the case can be appealed to the federal district court.
While there are many factors that affect the timing of a disability decision, good legal advice can help an individual be well prepared for the application process.