Some Thoughts on How Long Social Security Will Take to Decide Your Claim

The Social Security Disability has been backlogged on deciding disability applications for several years. Social Security has tried many ideas to reduce the wait time on initial applications and appeals. The backlog persists, but has improved somewhat. This article gives our experience on the wait times involved, and some ideas on how to move things more quickly.

The Initial Application and Appeal

At the initial application, the amount of time the DDS (Disability Determination Services) will take to decide your claim depends upon the complexity of your case. For example, if you have several medical conditions and you have seen several physicians, DDS (the state agency that makes the initial decision on your claim) is going to obtain all of those records, and the more physicians involved, the longer able to take to get all the records together. This is why it is important to have accurate information about the physicians and hospitals you have  been to when you apply for disability benefits.

Sometimes, people are claiming that they have been disabled for several years. As result, the Social Security Administration will have to obtain records from several years ago. Many times, records are destroyed after a period of time. However, with electronic medical records, this may be less of a problem. Hospitals, in our experience, tend to hold onto records much longer, and sometimes even retain outpatient clinic records. If you are doubting whether Social Security has all your records, you can contact your hospital directly, and in many cases, the hospital will provide you records free of charge.

Considering all those factors, it can take as little as three or four months, and as long six to eight months, on average, for the Disability Determination Services office to make an initial decision on your claim. 

The first appeal for a denied Social Security Disability claim is a "Request for Reconsideration." When we file this initial appeal for our clients, we check the claims file to make sure that the medical records are up-to-date. In many cases, we will obtain the records, and provide this directly to the Disability Determination Services office. Generally, DDS will not take as long to review a request for reconsideration because it has a lot of the basic information on your claim already. We generally advise our clients that it could be a three to six month wait before the reconsideration request is decided. Overall, 90% of the people who apply for reconsideration will be denied.

Requesting a Hearing:  The Second Appeal

Probably the longest weeks involves a live hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge at the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, also known as "ODAR."  Most of our hearings occur in the Portland, Oregon Social Security Hearings Office, but we have tried cases in Bend, Oregon, Eugene, Oregon, and even Port Townsend, Washington. We are seeing wait times of a year to a year and a half for most cases in the Portland, Oregon ODAR.

Sometimes, a disability claimant can seek an expedited hearing based on "dire need."  This is a strict standard, but it is possible that you may meet the requirements for dire need, and can get your hearing scheduled more quickly.

In other cases, your medical records and the other contents of your claims file may clearly establish that you are "disabled" as defined in the Social Security statute. If that is the case, you may qualify for an "on the record" review of your claim. An Attorney Advisor may review the claim, find that you qualify, and then write a Fully Favorable Decision prior to a hearing date. These decisions are also rare, but do happen.

If you are waiting for a hearing, or wondering how long your appeal will take, call us at 503-325-8600. We will find out where you are with the claim, and let you know where you stand. If you decide to hire our office, we do not get paid unless we are successful in obtaining benefits on your behalf.

Joe Di Bartolomeo
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