Social Security Disability Wait Times and First-Time Approval Rates

Government bureaucracies are not often heralded for their efficiency or accuracy. The Social Security Administration is no different. This is not necessarily due to any one person or department doing something wrong; it’s more a function of the massive number of applications the Administration receives and the in-depth consideration each receives. calendar.png

For example, in 2012, the Social Security Administration reports that 2.8 million applications were received for disability benefits. Most of these applications are filed by disabled workers. However, a small portion are filed by widow(ers) and adult children, both of which can qualify for disability benefits under certain circumstances.

With so many applications, one might wonder how the Social Security Administration handles them all. The answer, unfortunately, is “slowly.” For example, the Administration reports that, for June 2013, the average wait times in Indiana’s biggest cities were as follows:

· Fort Wayne: 9 months
· Indianapolis: 11 months
· Evansville: 14 months
These wait times represent the amount of time between the date when an applicant requests a hearing and the date of the actual hearing. As you can see, in some cases applicants must wait over a year before getting a hearing. Despite this reality, the Administration considers five months to be the standard “wait time.” (Note that a successful applicant is eligible for back pay after this five-month period. For example, if you end up waiting for eleven months for your application to be approved, you would be eligible for six months of back pay.)

On one hand this makes the wait not seem so bad; it might take a long time, but you get back pay for any wait over five months. But keep in mind, during that time you do not know that you will be approved. The truth is that most applicants will not be approved on their first time through the system.

Of the 2.8 million applicants for disability, less than 800,000 were approved on initial review. These applicants then had to get back in line and wait either for reconsideration of their application, or for an appeal to an administrative law judge. Many denied applications are approved in one of the several appeals processes. For example, in 2008, about two-thirds of applicants who were denied and chose to appeal ended up getting approved. However, there are certainly cases of worthy applicants waiting years before they were finally approved for disability benefits.

The bottom line is that applying for disability benefits can be a lengthy and stressful process. Applicants should do everything they can to make sure they have all their ducks in a row before submitting their final application. Often, this will mean securing the assistance of an experienced disability attorney; someone who knows how the disability system works and how to effectively navigate it. Please, give me a call if you are applying for disability benefits, I have over thirty years experience as an attorney and am extremely familiar with the process.

See Related Blog Posts:

Disability for Minor Children Under the Age of Eighteen
Availability of Disability Benefits for Mental Health Concerns

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