How Long Will It Take to Appeal a Denial of Disability Benefits?

You can expect to wait many months - even a year - to successfully appeal a denial of Social Security disability benefits. Here's a breakdown of how long it can take.

If your Social Security disability application was denied, don't be too surprised. Most claimants are initially denied, and must navigate the appeals process to secure benefits. Unfortunately, the Social Security disability appeals process often takes a long time, from several months to well over a year, depending on how far you have to go up the appeals chain. There are four levels of appeals in SSI and SSDI cases: Reconsideration, Administrative Law Judge Hearing, Appeals Council Review, and Federal Court.

(For an overview of the appeals process, see our introduction).

Wait Time at Each Step

Although the length of the disability appeals process depends on many things, including your geographic location and how busy the local SSA office is, the following are the average lengths of time for each step in the disability claim process:

Reconsideration

When the Social Security Administration (SSA) mails you the first written determination of your eligibility (called the initial determination), you can ask the SSA for a reconsideration of the decision. Unfortunately, the most common result is another denial.

Expected wait time: Three to Six Months

Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Hearing

If you disagree with the reconsideration decision, you can request a hearing before an ALJ. For the majority of claimants, this hearing is the best shot at winning benefits.

Expected wait time: One Year

Appeals Council Review

If you disagree with the ALJ’s decision, you can request an Appeals Council review.

Expected wait time: One Year

Federal Court

If you disagree with the decision of the Appeals Council, you can file a civil action with the appropriate federal District Court.

Expected wait time: This depends entirely on each district, but it will most likely take several months at the least.

Speeding Up The Process

There are some circumstances where the Social Security Administration (SSA) may expedite your case. For more information, see the article Can You Expedite Your Disability Appeal?

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