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).
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.
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, where a different claims examiner will review your claim. Unfortunately, the most common result is another denial.
Expected wait time: Three to Six Months
If you disagree with the reconsideration decision, you can request a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). For the majority of claimants, this hearing is the best shot at winning benefits.
Expected wait time: Twelve to Eighteen Months
If you disagree with the ALJ's decision, you can request an Appeals Council review. If the Appeals Council believes a mistake was made, it may send it back to the administrative law judge for further review.
Expected wait time: One Year
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.
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?