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We at New Jersey Disability Lawyers are often asked how long it will take for an individual to receive their Social Security Disability / SSD or SSI benefits once they apply. The answer is that it depends on the nature of the case and whether or not benefits are granted upon the initial application or further steps need to be taken.
Once a person applies for SSD, it can take three to five months for the applicant to receive a decision in the mail. If benefits are approved, it can take up to three months until the first benefits check is received. If benefits are denied, the applicant can (in most areas of the country, see below) apply for reconsideration of the Social Security Administration (SSA)'s decision.
Notably, there is a pilot program taking place in parts of New York, Alaska, Missouri, New Hampshire, California, Louisiana, Colorado, Alabama, Michigan and Pennsylvania in which SSA has done away with Reconsideration and sent those files directly to be heard by an Administrative Law Judge at the hearing level. If you live in a part of the US that does not participate this pilot program, your file will be sent to a different SSA employee than the one that reviewed the case initially. One advantage to this step is that upon Reconsideration an applicant can submit any evidence, even new evidence that was not provided in the initial application. It can take up to five months to get a decision if you apply for Reconsideration.
If your request is denied, you can then applying for a Social Security Disability hearing before a Federal SSA Administrative Law Judge. This step takes longer than all other steps because hearing offices tend to be so backlogged with cases that it can take up to two years to get a date for your hearing. In New Jersey, for example, the average wait time is sixteen months, the 13th longest wait time for a Social Security Disability hearing in the entire United States.
The average Social Security Disability administrative law judge will take up to 3 months to write his decision. After the written judge's decision is mailed, it can take three months until you receive your benefits.
In sum, the Social Security Disability system is slow-moving. Most people get very frustrated to learn that it can take a good two years to get the benefits they were rightfully entitled to all along. Lobbyists have been urging Congress to devote more money to the system so that SSA can hire more staff; it is a good idea to write to your Congressman about the importance of this issue.