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How Long Will It Take to Get Benefits?

Understanding Disability Benefits: SSDI and SSI

By Jonathan A. Abbott

Updated October 04, 2010

Programs such as worker’s compensation or unemployment pay benefits almost as soon as you are unable to work and you apply. By contrast, to get disability benefits your medical condition(s) must have lasted, or be expected to last, at least one year or be expected to result in your death.

SSDI benefits can be paid for a year prior to your application date; by contrast, SSI can only be paid as of the month after you apply. 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.

In addition to the time needed to establish your disability, there is a considerable amount of waiting at each stage of the process. In short, the process takes forever. Social Security makes its first decision in about four to five months. Once you’ve completed the additional forms for the first appeal, the decision at this point is generally returned more quickly, usually within a matter of weeks. Following this appeal, comes the real wait. Unfortunately, you have to wait … and wait … and wait some more for a hearing. Nationally, the wait is about 18 months (and increasing) from the time you ask for a hearing -- not the time you first applied!

Tim Moore of My Disability Blog shares, “The entire disability application and appeal process can, therefore, take as long as three years to get through. For this reason, individuals who are considering filing a disability claim should not delay filing, but rather should simply apply and get their application started. In other words, don't procrastinate, just get it done.”

Understanding Disability Benefits – The Series

  1. I Can’t Hold a Job! What Do I Do? – Introduction
  2. What is Disability?
  3. Do I Qualify for Disability?
  4. Is Bipolar Disorder a Qualified Condition for Disability?
  5. How Do I Start My Disability Application?
  6. What Information and Paperwork Do I Need?
  7. What Happens with My Application?
  8. How Long Will It Take to Get Benefits?
  9. What Benefits Will I Get?
  10. Who Can Help Me?

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