“How long will this take?” is probably the most common question that our clients ask. Every case is different, but in general, here are the approximate timeframes for the decision-making process:
To get an initial decision it take 3-5 months from the time you apply. This can be longer or shorter depending on how quickly medical records are returned by your doctor, how quickly you return any forms that Social Security asks you to complete and whether or not Social Security sends you to see a doctor for a consultative exam.
Request for Reconsideration
If your initial application is turned down, we will help our clients file the appeal, called a Request for Reconsideration. It can take another 3-5 months to get a decision on the appeal. Again this can be longer or shorter depending on how quickly medical records are returned by your doctor, how quickly you return any forms that Social Security asks you to complete and whether or not Social Security sends you to see a doctor for a consultative exam.
Request for Hearing
If the appeal is denied, we will help our clients file the second appeal, which is a Request for a Hearing. Due to a huge backlog at Social Security, it is currently taking about 16-20 months for Social Security to schedule a hearing from the time the hearing is requested. Please understand that Social Security judges schedule the hearing based on their calendar and that attorneys have no control over the schedule.
From Hearing to Decision
Once the judge has made a decision in your case an instruction sheet is sent to the decision writing unit at the hearing office. The decision is written and then sent back to the judge to review, edit and for the final signature before it is mailed. The paper decision is mailed to the claimant and a copy is also mailed to the attorney if the claimant was represented at the hearing. This part of the process can take from just a few weeks to over 3 months, depending on the number of hearings and decisions that the writing unit is given each week.
If your decision was unfavorable, it can be appealed to the Appeals Council. Because an appeal at this level requires some legal knowledge, it is advisable to hire an attorney if you are not already represented. The attorney may advise you that an appeal is not the best option and that it would be better to file a new claim. However, the decision to appeal is yours to make and you can file the appeal at your local social security office if you cannot find an attorney to handle the case. The Appeals Council decision can take up to a year or longer (although it may only take a few months). The most common outcomes are that the Appeals Council leaves the judge’s decision alone (this is similar to a denial) or the case may be sent back for a new hearing.