How Long Does It Take to Get Disability Benefits?


Lisa Allen

A major, life-changing injury or illness diagnosis during your prime working years can seriously disrupt your life. As a result, you may not be able to work in the same capacity as you did before. Your income likely suffered or even stopped. It can change your quality of life and your relationships. Often, one person’s injury or illness can affect their entire family. This is either because it disrupts a main source of income or requires a new way of life that is difficult and unfamiliar. If you find yourself in this situation, one of the first questions you might ask is, “How long will it take me to receive disability benefits?” And, like so many other legal issues, the answer can be “it depends on your unique circumstances.”

However, some general guidelines and timelines can help you understand how long it usually takes for disability benefits to start after claim approval.

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How Long Does It Take to Get Disability Benefits On Your First Try?

Technically, disability benefits should to start after a six-month waiting period that begins the day your condition starts. The Social Security Administration calls that day your “onset date.” So, for example, if your condition begins on January 1st and all goes well with your claim, your benefits could start July 1st.

The SSA says claims take three to five months to process, on average. The SSA doesn’t make the initial decision, though. Instead, it sends your claim to a state agency for review. An agent at the state agency will request medical records and other evidence in order to make a determination. When that agency reaches a decision on your claim depends entirely on how long it takes those records or evidence to arrive.

That state agency might also send you additional paperwork to complete, or an independent physical examination. How long each of these steps takes to complete can also delay the decision process.

How Long Does It Really Take Most People to Get SSD Benefits?

Most people don’t submit perfect disability claims with convincing medical evidence when they apply. For this reason, the SSA doesn’t approve most first-time disability claims. In fact, the SSA denies the vast majority of initial claims (and approve only 35% of applications overall). If they deny your first claim, you have 60 days to appeal. Then you have to wait for an appeal hearing, which usually takes at least 10 months. For appealed SSD cases, the average claim-processing timeframe nationwide is 418 days.

The important dates to remember are your onset date (the day you became disabled) and the six-month waiting period. These can run at the same time. In other words, if it takes six months to process your initial approved claim, then you don’t have to wait another six months. The waiting period begins on the onset date, not your filing date.

This means it can take anywhere from 6-15 months, on average, to receive claim approval. Once that process ends, it takes another month to receive any money. So, how long you’ll wait for your first SSD payment is a minimum of six months, but possibly one year or longer.

What Determines the Disability Payment Wait Time for Most People?

How long it takes for your first disability payment to arrive depends on a range of factors, such as:

  • Determining when your disability actually started (the onset date),
  • How soon you filed your claim paperwork after that, and
  • Whether the SSA approves your claim after the initial filing date.

If the SSA doesn’t approve your initial SSD claim, the appeal process also affects how long you’ll wait for benefits.

Delays happen for several reasons. One is because you, the claimant, may make some mistakes because you’re unfamiliar with the system. You might not fill out the paperwork correctly, which can cause delays. You also might not submit medical records with your application, which may also cause delays. Or you may not know how and when to do things, which also extends your wait time.

Unless you are a disability lawyer or physician, you likely don’t know which information is important to submit along with your claim. It’s also not possible at this time to visit a Social Security Office and speak to a representative in person.

How Can I Get My Disability Payments Quicker?

There are no shortcuts when it comes to how long it takes to file Social Security disability claims. There also aren’t ways to bypass the SSA’s mandatory waiting period, unless you have ALS (i.e., you have Lou Gehrig’s disease).

But there are ways to improve your approval chances when filing your SSD claim. One is to ensure your paperwork is error-free and filed in a timely manner. This includes submitting all necessary medical records at the time of your initial application.

Another way is to work with a disability attorney who understands how the system works. While this doesn’t guarantee you SSD benefits, no attorney will accept your case unless they think you will win. That said, filing through a lawyer might speed up your claim approval or appeal wait time. Finally, claimants with lawyers are nearly 3x more likely to receive benefits compared to those who file without legal assistance.

Disability Attorneys and Money

The Social Security Administration has strict rules about how much your lawyer can charge. This means they use established parameters to limit what percentage of your past-due benefit amount can go to your attorney after claim approval.

Our attorneys charge nothing up-front if you qualify for legal assistance. Learn more about how much Social Security disability attorneys typically cost here.

Ready to see if you may qualify? Complete your free online SSD benefits evaluation now!

Lisa Allen

Lisa Allen is a writer and editor who lives in suburban Kansas City. She holds MFAs in Creative Nonfiction and Poetry, both from the Solstice Low-Residency Program in Creative Writing at Pine Manor College. Prior to becoming a writer, Lisa worked as a paralegal, where she specialized in real estate in and around Chicago.