SSD Benefits Application Timeline: What to Expect

by Lori Polemenakos   ·  1 month ago  

Navigating the process of disability benefits approval can be daunting, and understanding the average time for SSD approval is crucial for those seeking support. The Social Security Administration (SSA) evaluates each case individually, considering medical evidence and other factors. The average time for disability approval ideally sits around 5 months for an initial approval, but backlogs, denials, and appeals can lengthen the process. Here’s what you need to know about the average disability processing timeline.

How Long Does it Take to Get Approved for Social Security Disability Benefits?

  • Application Timing: Wait until five months after you stop working due to disability before applying.
  • Disability Determination Review: Expect 3-5 months for most cases; faster for Compassionate Allowances List (CAL) cases, potentially 18.5 days on average in 2016. Consultative exams (CE) can add 1-2 months.
  • First Payment: Earliest payment is six full months after disability onset. With legal assistance, benefits may come sooner, but it’s typically within 2-3 years for those without assistance.
  • Appeal Window: If you were denied, you have 60 days to appeal a denial. Reconsideration takes an average of 77 days.
  • ALJ Hearing: If denied again, another 60 days to appeal. ALJ hearings can take 6-12 months to schedule, typically two years after initial application.

Social Security Disability Benefits Approval Timeline

Waiting to Be Approved for Disability

How long, exactly, does it take from the moment you apply to getting your first SSD payment once you’re approved? See every step in the application process and claim review timeline below.

Step 1: When to Apply for Social Security Disability

If you’re still working when you apply for Social Security disability, the SSA will automatically reject your claim. Don’t apply for SSD benefits until five months after your disability forces you to stop working, according to SSA guidelines.

Step 2: Your Claim Goes to Disability Determination Services for Review

Most SSD applicants wait 3-5 months before hearing a decision on their claim. If you have a terminal illness or condition on the Compassionate Allowances List (CAL), your review time is much faster. In 2016, the SSA reviewed CAL list and Quick Disability Determination (QDD) claims in 18.5 days, on average. If the examiner can’t make a decision with available medical records, you must undergo a consultative exam (CE) instead. When this happens, it can add 1-2 months to your SSD claim’s review time.

Step 3: First Payment Arrives After Your SSD Claim Is Approved

Most people ask, “How soon can I get my first payment after my SSD claim is approved?” SSA guidelines say the soonest you’ll get your first payment is six full months after the date you became disabled. If your doctor diagnoses pancreatic cancer on May 1, your earliest SSD payment arrives on December 1. Filing your claim through a lawyer makes you 3x more likely to get benefits right away. You’ll also get the most benefits you legally qualify for paid faster than you would applying on your own. People who apply without legal assistance typically wait 2-3 years for their first payments.

Step 4: If Your Claim Is Denied, You Have 60 Days to Appeal

You must appeal for SSD benefits within 60 days after your denial letter arrives in the mail. Otherwise, you’ll have to start the whole SSD application process over from scratch with a new disability examiner. In most states, your first appeal is called “reconsideration” and it takes 77 days, on average, to process.

Step 5: Scheduling an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Hearing in Court

If the SSA denies your first appeal, you have another 60 days to dispute that decision. However, an ALJ hearing can take 6-12 months to schedule before a judge. The soonest most SSD claimants can plead their case at an ALJ hearing is two years after they first applied.

Is There a Social Security Backlog for Disability Approval?

The wait time for SSD benefits has been on the rise since 2020, and in 2023 the average processing time for the initial application was taking an average of 223 days.

SSDI Disability Timelines Month Over Month

In September 2022, the Social Security Administration released a statement indicating the current wait time for SSD benefits is “unacceptable” and “cause[s] significant financial hardship for the most vulnerable people.”

It’s not hard to see why. During the approval process, applicants are not allowed to earn Substantial Gainful Activity, which is currently set at $160 over the poverty line. This means that disabled applicants can’t earn enough money to live on for the better part of a year before their initial disability claims are processed. Furthermore, 3 out of 5 applications are rejected during this stage, potentially forcing the waiting period to be drawn out even further before they receive a disability decision.

Do I get Backpay if My Application is Delayed?

Fortunately, despite the extensive delays in the disability benefits application process, you may be eligible for back pay to compensate for any severe delays in the disability benefits application process, whether you’re applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Acquiring backpay for SSI and SSDI can be a complex process, often involving a significant waiting period and various stages of appeal. Initially, only a minority of applicants are approved, leading to a backlog and prolonged waiting times. However, upon approval, recipients may be entitled to back payments, which cover the period between the application date and approval, minus a mandatory five-month waiting period.

These back payments can also include retroactive benefits for the time between the onset of disability and the application date. Calculating back payments involves determining the number of months between key dates and multiplying by the monthly benefit amount. Consultation with an experienced disability attorney is recommended to navigate this process effectively.

Get Approved for Social Security Disability Benefits Faster

In navigating the labyrinth of disability benefits, working with a disability attorney can significantly speed up the process and ensure you receive the support you deserve. With extensive knowledge of the process of applying for disability benefits, lawyers can guide you through the complexities of SSD approval, potentially shortening wait times and maximizing your benefits. Don’t let delays hinder your financial stability during challenging times: contacting a lawyer specialized in disability law can make all the difference, helping you secure the assistance you need without unnecessary delays. Take control of your journey towards SSD approval by reaching out to a trusted legal professional today!

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Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity,, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.