How do I apply and how long does the whole process take?
Step 1: Application
The Social Security Administration administers the Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income programs. You contact the Social Security office serving your area to start the process. You can find out which office serves your area by calling information or going to the Social Security Website at www.SocialSecurity.gov. You can apply in person, over the phone, or online.
Social Security has a contract with a State office, the Division of Disability Determinations, to evaluate each case and make a determination as to whether or not the claimant is disabled. After you complete the application process, Social Security sends your file to the State disability office. They may request more information from you regarding your disability, and will obtain copies of the medical records from your health care providers. They may want you to see one of their doctors. If you can get the information they need from your own treating doctor instead of going to an examination by a new doctor, it is usually in your interest to do so. Your doctor already knows your case, and has access to the testing and treatment which has already been provided. The Social Security doctor may not be able to identify your problem at a brief one-time exam. An opinion by one of these doctors that your impairment would not prevent you from working could mean that you will not receive your disability benefits.
After obtaining the information they need, the State disability determination office will make a recommended decision to Social Security. The length of time it takes to get to this point depends how long it takes the Social Security office to complete the application, and send your file to the State disability office which varies substantially from office to office. It also depends on how long it takes your medical providers to send your records, and how quickly the State office staff perform their responsibilities. According to the Division of Disability Determinations Office in Orlando, the average time spent on a case in their office at the initial level is 85 days.
If the State disability recommends that your claim be approved, Social Security will review the case and send a Notice to you. They will then make sure that you meet all of the other non-disability requirements for eligibility and process your payment. The State office recommends most cases be denied. If a recommendation of denial is made, Social Security will send you a denial notice. If your claim is denied, you have sixty days from the date you receive the denial to appeal. Social Security assumes you receive the notice within five days of the date on it unless you can prove otherwise. You file an appeal by completing and submitting a Request for Reconsideration with two Social Security releases, and a Disability Report on a form supplied by Social Security.
Step 2: Reconsideration
If you file a Request for Reconsideration with Social Security, your file will be sent back to the State disability office. They will obtain any updated information and another determination will be made by another claim examiner. Again, the amount of time it takes depends on how quickly the Social Security staff, State office staff, you, and your doctors do what is needed. The average time would be approximately three or four months. Any given case could take more or less time.
If a recommendation for approval is made, the file will be returned to Social Security. After a review, a Notice will be sent to you, and the process will begin to make sure you meet all other eligibility criteria and determine the amount of your benefits. Again, the State office recommends most cases be denied. If your claim is denied, you have sixty days from the date you receive the denial to appeal. Social Security assumes you receive the notice within five days of the date on it unless you can prove otherwise. You file an appeal by completing and submitting a Request for Hearing with two Social Security releases, and a Disability Report on a form supplied by Social Security.
Step 3: Hearing
Although your results may vary, most people who appeal their case to an Administrative Law Judge are found disabled. The problem is that it generally takes more than a year before a case is even assigned to a judge. It could take two or more months after that before the hearing is scheduled, and two or more months after that to receive the written decision.
Step 4: Appeals Council
Administrative Law Judge decisions can be appealed to the Appeals Council. Detail as to where and when the appeal must be filed will be included with the Judge's decision. It could take two months to more than a year after you file your appeal before the Appeals Council issues a decision.
Step 5: Federal Court
Claims that are denied by the Appeals Council can be appealed to the United States District Court. More details are included with the notice sent by the Appeals Council.