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How Long Will It Take SSA to Make a Decision on Your Social Security and/or Supplemental Security Income Disability Claim?

By R. M. Bottger


The Social Security Administration will tell you that it takes an average of 120 days to make a decision on your Social Security and/or Supplemental Security Income disability claim. However, this is not the whole story.

When I was a disability determination specialist in Oklahoma, sometimes people would call me about day 115 to tell me that the 120-day deadline was coming up and that I had better hurry. The 120 days is an average not a deadline. There is no deadline. The Social Security Administration can take however long it needs to make its decision on your Social Security disability claim. Even the people that understood that the 120 days was an average were still confused about how long their claims were going to take. Many thought that their cases would take 120 days give or take a few days. In reality, the amount of time that it takes to make a decision varies greatly from case to case. When I was a disability determination specialist, sometimes I would get a case in which the person applying included copies of all of the medical records. (See What Medical Records Should You Submit When You Apply for Social Security Disability Benefits?) If the records included enough information to make a decision, sometimes I made a decision the same day that I was assigned the case. In those cases, the person would be notified of the decision within a couple of weeks after he or she applied for Social Security disability benefits. On the other hand, sometimes I had cases that took over a year to make a decision. Usually, my oldest cases were heart cases. In any case, sometimes a person is not bad enough to be found disabled, but their condition continues to deteriorate. Maybe the person has an additional heart attack or another surgery. Then, the disability determination specialist may continue to hold on to the case in order to obtain additional records of ongoing treatment.

            When you apply for Social Security and/or Supplemental Security Income disability benefits, the claims representative at your local Social Security office makes a decision about the non-medical requirements for disability benefits. For example, to be eligibility for Social Security disability benefits you have to have paid into Social Security 20 of the last 40 quarters. For Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you must have below a certain level of income and resources. Then the Social Security office sends your case to your stateís rehabilitation agency to determine if you meet the medical requirements for Social Security disability benefits. The case is then assigned to a disability determination specialist. Some of the most time consuming aspects of case development are beyond the disability determination specialistís control in terms of time. Obtaining copies of medical records is often very time consuming. Some doctors and hospitals take months to respond to request for records. If you have additional hospitalizations or treatment while the Social Security Administration is working on your case, the Social Security Administration may take additional time to try to obtain these records. Scheduling examinations for people and waiting for reports on these examinations are often time consuming. (See Examinations Scheduled for You by SSA for Your Disability Claim.) If you take a long time to send in forms or request that your examinations be rescheduled, your case will take even longer. Once the disability determination specialist obtains all the necessary evidence, a number of other people may look at your disability case. A medical doctor and the disability determination specialist must both sign the final decision on the case. If you have a mental impairment, a psychiatrist or psychologist must also evaluate your disability case. Supervisory staff and quality assurance staff may also look at your case. Once the state agency has made its decision, the case goes back to Social Security. Some of the cases go to a regional Social Security office for a quality assurance check before going back to the local Social Security office. If your case is an allowance, the local Social Security office then can start your benefits.

            The Social Security Administration does try to do Social Security and Supplemental Security Income  cases as fast as they can. The longer a case takes, then the more the case costs to process. This is because personnel hours and other resources continue to be spent on the case. The Social Security Administration also wants to keep the average processing time as low as possible for public relations purposes.

            Disability determination specialists also want to do cases as fast as possible. Their job performance is evaluated partially based on how fast they do the cases. When I was a disability determination specialist, I was assigned 16 new cases every week. Even when I was on sick leave, I continued to be assigned 16 new cases every week. If I didnít get the cases out as fast as I could, then my caseload would grow very quickly. Disability determination specialists really are motivated to make decisions as fast as they can.

In conclusion, if you are about to be thrown out of your apartment for failing to pay the rent, the electricity is about to be cut off, and the car is about to be repossessed, you better work some thing else out because even if your disability case is eventually allowed, it might well be months before you actually receive any money.








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