How long it will take to adjudicate your particular claim will depend on several factors, and the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will consider your case very carefully. You should know going in that you will not receive a ruling from the bench during your initial hearing, and that there may be other steps you have to go through, including an appeal if your first judgment is not favorable.
Check Your Local Office
Wait time also varies by office, even though rules regarding SSDI are the same from office to office. Some offices simply have more people or there are other reasons the offices are faster or slower. You can see how long your particular office normally takes before issuing a decision by going to the Social Security Administration’s page that lists the hearing offices’ processing time, currently ranked for 2020, and accounting for data collected from 9/28/2019 through 7/31/2020. Unfortunately, the novel coronavirus is probably causing delays that make it harder to estimate times right now.
Do You Qualify for SSDI?
The first question you need to ask is if you are eligible for SSDI benefits. The basic qualifications require you to have worked in a job or jobs that were covered by Social Security, so you may not qualify if, for instance, you were self-employed and did not pay into Social Security. The second requirement is that you must have a medical condition that meets Social Security’s definition of disability. The general rule is that the disability must cause you to be off work for at least a year because of the disability. There is an Adult Disability Checklist provided by the Social Security Administration that will help you see if you are qualified and make sure you have what you need for the application process
The SSDI Process
There are several steps in the process for getting SSDI payments, and they all take some time to get through. The sooner you get started, the sooner you can start receiving benefits.
The first thing you need to do is fill out an SSDI application. It is most important to remember to fill out every question, answer honestly, and give as much detail as possible. Give examples of how your disability is affecting you, and attach extra papers if necessary. You could fill out the application pretty quickly, but it is better to set aside some hours where you can give it your full attention. Even if you do a great job on your paperwork, there is a high chance that your claim will be denied. About 70% of claims are denied the first time, and it normally takes about 3 or 4 months before you hear back with that initial decision.
Request for Reconsideration
If you do receive a rejection on your first application, you can keep the claim alive by filing a Request for Reconsideration. It is better to keep your claim alive because your benefits will start faster if you are approved faster. Do not wait to file, because you only have 60 days to ask the SSA to reconsider your claim. After those 60 days have passed, this application is done. If the SSA denies your request to reconsider, you have three choices:
- Do nothing, and stop pursuing a disability claim entirely.
- Fill out a new initial claim, and start the process over with a new application.
- File a Request for Hearing (usually your best option — but again, you only have 60 days after the rejection to ask for a hearing)
The idea of going to a hearing sounds frightening because most people are unfamiliar with court hearings and do not feel comfortable in court. However, SSDI hearings are not as confrontational as most other hearings, such as criminal proceedings. This is actually your best chance of getting approved because you will get a chance to present your case to an Administrative Law Judge. You can represent yourself, but it is highly recommended that you go with an attorney who is familiar with SSDI matters.
About 30 days before the hearing, you will get a notice that you are to appear at your Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR). Your attorney will help you present your case in a way most favorable to getting the conclusion that you want, and helping you understand which evidence you have that will be most compelling to the ALJ.
Again, you are not going to get a decision from the judge on the day of your hearing. It usually takes at least a few months before you get a decision in the mail. If you win at the hearing, you will get a Notice of Decision and a Notice of Award. If you lose, the last thing left is an appeal.
The Appeals Council is not there to evaluate the facts of your case. Like other appeals courts, they do re-weigh the evidence or listen to other facts. They are there to consider your reasons as to why you think your appeal was denied and make the decision based on the rules of SSDI. The Council may decide that the ALJ did not consider the evidence carefully enough, but in those cases, the case will be sent back to the ALJ with instructions to look at that evidence again.
The time it takes for the Appeals Council to hear your case ranges from 60 days to a year. Like other appeals courts, this depends a lot on what other cases are currently ready to be heard. After all that time, you may just have to go back and have another hearing in front of the ALJ. Most of the time, though, the Appeals Council upholds the ruling of the ALJ. If they uphold the original decision, this claim is probably over.
Once You Lose an SSDI Claim, What Do You Do?
If you lose at the highest level when pursuing your claim, that application is done, but that does not mean that you are not allowed to keep pursuing a disability claim. You must simply start over with a new application.
Starting a New Application
Most people who file for SSDI try to get through the process without help. Especially if you have already lost an SSDI claim, get an SSDI Attorney to help you when you file again. Your SSDI Lawyer has seen many different kinds of SSDI cases and helped other clients fill out the paperwork. SSDI Attorneys attend hearings with their clients and help keep them up-to-date on what is happening with their cases. This is especially helpful with these kinds of cases because they take so long to get through from start to finish.
The most important thing is that your SSDI Lawyer has successfully helped other clients to get their disability awards, so will know how best to present your case to the ALJ. If you did not use an attorney the first time, it is highly recommended that you get legal counsel when starting over to get the best chance of being successful at getting the award you deserve.
When Do the Award Payments Start?
Even if it takes you a long time to successfully win your claim, your payments do not depend on the day the Court decided to make the award. When your application is finally approved, you will receive payments starting on the sixth full month after the date of your disability began. So if your disability started on June 15, 2019, your payments would start in December 2019. Another thing to remember is that you will receive your payments in the next month, so if your first payment was for December 2019, your first payment would be in January 2020.
How Much Will You Get?
This depends entirely on you and your personal work history. Your benefit will be based on a lifetime average of your social security earnings. You can check out your potential future Social Security benefits at any time by creating an account at My Social Security.
Get Help Now
It is never too late to get the assistance of an SSDI Attorney, but the sooner you get help, the sooner you are more likely to get your application approved.