Social Security says that it takes 3 to 5 months to get a decision about your disability application. However, since more than 70% of disability applications are initially denied, the average actual wait time is much longer. How much longer depends on how many times you have to appeal to get your disability benefits.
If you appeal all the way to the federal district court, it could be a 5 year wait. There are many steps in between the initial application and a federal case. Check out the average wait times below.
The median wait time to get a final decision in 2010 was 561 days… then it got worse.
If you filed for disability in 2010 your claim was in the 50th percentile for wait times - then your claim took 561 days from start to finish. Unfortunately, wait times increased between 2010 and 2015. By 2015, the median wait time was over 800 days from application to final decision.
According to a recent government report, those wait times have decreased somewhat. For example, Social Security was able to take about 100 days off the time it takes to get a decision from an administrative law judge.
What does this mean? Each case varies, and your best chance of having a quick decision is to win your claim as early in the process as possible. However, most claimants have to go through at least one or more appeals. Each step in the appeals process adds more time to your wait for benefits.
You have the right to as many as 5 appeals for your disability claim.
Most applicants for disability are initially denied by Social Security. After you initial denial you have as many as 5 appeals as a matter of right:
- A request for reconsideration to the Social Security Administration;
- Then a request for a hearing before an administrative law judge;
- Then a request for review to the Social Security Appeals Council;
- Then an appeal to a United States District Court; and
- Finally an appeal to a United States Court of Appeal.
But each one of these appeals takes significant time, including the 60 days you get to submit your appeal (except to the Court of Appeal).
If you have to ask for “reconsideration”…
If your initial application is denied you may ask for “reconsideration” of that decision. In 2018 it took 103 days on average to process a request for reconsideration. If you waited the full 60 days to appeal your initial denial, then you’re looking at a time frame from application to decision of about 8 to 10 months to get a decision on reconsideration. Appeal quickly and you’re likely to shave a month or more off of the wait time.
If you have to ask for an administrative law judge hearing…
If your request for reconsideration is denied, you may ask for a hearing with an administrative law judge. Your wait for a hearing is going to depend on what office is in charge of your appeal. The average time you wait to have your hearing varies from 9 months in Birmingham, to 10 months in Montgomery, to 12 months in Mobile.
After the hearing you’ll have to wait for a decision. That average wait varies from a couple months in the Birmingham office to 3 plus months in Mobile to over 5 months in Montgomery. As a result, from the time you request a hearing to the time you get a decision, you’re likely to wait 12 to 15 months.
If you take the full 60 days to appeal at each level, in 2020 your average wait time from the application to the administrative law judge’s decision is around two years - 22 to 28 months.
If you have to ask for Appeal Council review…
A lot of disability claims stop at the hearing level either because they’ve been approved or because the reasons to expect a win on appeal decrease. However, many applicants continue their appeal to the Appeals Council.
There is less information about current wait times for Appeals Council decisions. However, in 2015 it took the Appeals Council an average 441 days to process a request for review. If you take the full 60 days to appeal at each level, your average wait time from the application to the appeals council decision is going to average more than 3 years - 39 to 45 months.
If you have to appeal to the Federal District Court…
If you lose at the Appeals Council, you can appeal to federal district court. How long your district court case depends on many factors including: what court you’re in, which judge or magistrate your case is with, and even what month your briefing finishes. In generally you can expect it to take more than 12 month to decide your district court appeal. We generally tell people to give it about 18 months. At this point, you could easily be 4 and a half or 5 years from your initial application.
If you appeal to the Federal Court of Appeals…
Lose your federal district court case and you still have one appeal left. An appeal to the Court of Federal Appeals is your last appeal of right. That means that if you lose at the appeals court, you could appeal to the Supreme Court, but they don’t have to hear your case. In fact, the odds are greatly against them taking up your case. However, the Court of Appeals is required to hear your case and will do so if you ask them to.
Cases out of Alabama go to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2019, it took just a little over 9 months - on average - to get a decision from the time the appeal is filed.
If the court of appeals rules in your favor they are unlikely to award you benefits at that time. Instead, they are likely to say a mistake was made at one of the lower levels of appeal (like the administrative law judge hearing) and send it back down to that level of the process to consider your case again - which could mean many more months of waiting.
Four ways to speed up your disability claim?
The good news is that after all that waiting, if you get approved, you will get back benefits for most or all of that wait. The bad news is the wait can be very long, indeed. If you want to increase the possibility of a faster decision, you can take these steps.
- The number one ways to speed up your claim is to win your initial application. Maximize your chances of having your claim approved by hiring an attorney. Statistics from 2019 show that those claimants with an attorney were almost three times as likely to have claim approved as those who did not have a lawyer;
- If you have a 100% disability from the VA, be sure to tell Social Security. That rating can get you an expedited processing of your application;
- Waive the 75 days notice of a hearing. Social Security is supposed to give you notice of a hearing 75 days ahead of time. However, you can waive that period and potentially get a hearing sooner; and
- File your appeal quickly. Don’t wait the full appeal period, and where possible do not seek extensions. If your case goes to the District Court, you could save 4 or more months by appealing quickly.
If you’re in Alabama and need help with your Social Security disability claim, we want to help. Let’s set up a time for you to speak with a lawyer about your case.