For anyone who’s even the least bit acquainted with the Social Security disability benefits system, you know that the process often moves glacially slowly — and it’s no wonder, as the Social Security Administration receives over 2 million disability claims per year, and has to process them all before moving forward (not to mention appeals and other continuing processes). Furthermore, the paperwork involved is time-consuming, and the deadlines are precise — miss one, and you’ll have to start all over again.
That’s why it’s so important to understand exactly what the deadlines are for each step of the process, and how long you should expect to wait before a decision is reached. This can help inform you of your next steps to take and ensure that you will get the maximum payout possible depending on your disability.
To start, you should make sure to apply for disability benefits as soon as you become disabled, whether that occurs in a workplace accident, an outside incident or as the result of a serious illness. It doesn’t pay to wait around for your symptoms to get worse, as you will be paid retroactively for the time that you spend waiting on a decision about your disability benefits status. Waiting around too long can actually lead to a loss, as you will typically not be able to get benefits going more than one year back, even if you have been disabled for that long. Therefore, you want to make sure that you file your claim as soon as possible so that you can get sorely-needed benefits without having to wait for time to pass before you even start the process (which already takes so long).
After you file the initial application, it may take up to 90 days to process, after which time you will receive a decision that will tell you whether you got benefits or not, and how much. However, if you receive a rejection and would like to appeal your decision, you can do so — and eventually, if the case makes it through the right channels, it will be heard by an administrative law judge who can deliver a decision that may turn out to be different from the first two you received (I say two because, after filing the initial complaint and being denied, you need to file a request for reconsideration with the SSA, which will just have another claims examiner review the same case).
When you’re appealing your decision, the request for reconsideration (as mentioned above) must be filed within 60 days of you receiving the denial letter in order to go through. Otherwise, your appeal will unfortunately be considered moot. Since the Social Security Administration gives the initial denial letter five days to reach you, that means the date you file the request must be within 65 days of the date that’s printed on your denial letter. Then, once you file the request for reconsideration, it can take another 90 days to hear back on the second decision in your case.
If that decision comes back negative again, it’s time to request a hearing — which is the next step in the appeals process, and allows you to argue your case in front of a judge. This request, like the previous one, must be filed within 60 days of receiving the denial letter. However, from there, the hearing wait times can be ridiculous, taking many months or even more than a year for your case to finally appear in front of a judge.
Dealing with such long wait times for a disability hearing can be disheartening, but there’s things you can do in the meantime to strengthen your case, in order to ensure that when it is eventually heard, you will have sufficient evidence to convince a judge that you deserve disability benefits. Make sure that you keep all of the records from all of your hospital stays, doctors’ visits, and other treatment methods, so that you can use these as proof that you have a disability and deserve to receive benefits.
Throughout the process, you should make sure to consult with your attorney, who will counsel you on the appropriate steps to take and will keep you abreast of all of the developments in your case. Although there are many deadlines to keep in mind, your attorney will help remind you when something is due and will make sure that all of your appeals are filed in a timely manner. They will also help you through the potentially long hearing wait time, and will strategize ways to prepare for the hearing for the time when it eventually does happen.