How Long Will It Take to Get Disability Benefits?

Understanding SSDI and SSI Disability Benefits Timelines

When you're unable to work due to a disability, you're probably anxious about when you can expect to get benefits. Programs such as worker’s compensation or unemployment pay benefits begin almost as soon as you are unable to work and you apply for them. By contrast, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) takes much longer to receive. You can expect it to take three to five months after your completed application before you get a letter of determination, and another month or more before your payment is deposited.

Woman on crutches in kitchen
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The Qualification Lag

To qualify for disability, your medical condition must have lasted, or be expected to last, at least one year or be expected to result in your death. You may not be able to start your application until you fulfill that time requirement. Because it takes so long to get benefits, it is generally wise to apply as soon as it appears that your medical problems are going to keep you from working for at least a year. Social Security provides an online application and checklists that can help ensure your application is not delayed further by being incomplete.

There is also a list of Compassionate Allowances Conditions. If you have one of those conditions, your application may be expedited. You may be able to receive a decision on your disability in a matter of weeks rather than waiting for months or years.

You will be able to get backpay of your SSDI benefits for up to a year prior to your application date. SSI backpay can only be accrued as of the month after you apply. This is a reason to apply as soon as your medical problem is eligible. Social Security may accept your medical records or require you to get an exam or tests. It's important to keep that appointment, so it doesn't delay your application.

The Decision Lag

In addition to the time needed to establish your disability, there is a considerable amount of waiting at each stage of the process. Social Security makes its first decision in three to five months. You will receive a letter of the determination. If you are approved, your first check should arrive at the beginning of the next month. The date will be included in the determination letter. If you are owed money for backpayments, you will get it in a lump sum, which usually will take a month or two longer to show up. SSI backpay is often paid in installments rather than a single lump sum.

The Appeal Lag

Fewer than half of initial claims for disability are approved. You are able to appeal the decision by filing additional forms. The appeal decision is generally returned more quickly, usually within a matter of weeks. The real wait comes following this appeal. Unfortunately, you have to wait for a hearing. Nationally, the wait is about 18 months from the time you ask for a hearing, not the time you first applied.

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Article Sources
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  1. Social Security Administration. Disability Benefits. Published July 2019.

  2. Social Security Administration. Apply Online for Disability Benefits.

  3. Social Security Administration. Compassionate Allowances.

  4. Social Security Administration. Outcome Variation in the Social Security Disability Insurance Program: The Role of Primary Diagnoses. Published May 2013.

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