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’s Approved
Most people ask, “How soon can I get my first payment after my SSD claim’s 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’s Denied, You Have 60 Days to Appeal
You must appeal 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. In most states, your first appeal is called “reconsideration” and it takes 77 days, on average, to process.
Step 5: Scheduling an 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.
Related: Disability Application Approval Rates for All 50 States
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 Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, 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.