The Social Security Disability Approval Process

Social Security Disability Approval Process Overview

Note: We updated this article in March 2022 to include the latest information from the Social Security Administration. In 2021, 9.2 million Americans collected nearly $140 billion in Social Security disability benefits. However, the Social Security Administration (SSA) denies approximately 65% of all claims filed. The Social Security disability approval process can also take six months or longer. However, the SSA denies most people who apply for benefits without legal assistance.

Having an attorney file your claim paperwork can potentially reduce the time required to receive your benefits. It also makes you nearly 3x more likely to win benefits compared to those who apply on their own. An experienced representative knows how to properly prepare your claim and avoid the pitfalls and mistakes in the Social Security disability approval process applicants often make when filing on their own.

3 Steps in the Social Security Disability Approval Process

Step 1: Initial Evaluation

After you submit your disability claim, a representative of the SSA will evaluate your claim to determine if you meet the basic requirements to receive benefits. The representative will also evaluate the amount of income you currently earn on a monthly basis. If you’re still working when you apply, there’s almost no chance the SSA will award you benefits. Besides that, there is a maximum amount of monthly income that disqualifies applicants. If you exceed that limit, then the SSA decides you are not eligible for SSD benefits. In 2022, the maximum income limit is $1,350/month. Find out if you may qualify now.

Step 2: Disability Determination

Once you pass the basic technical requirements for SSD benefits, your application moves to the next evaluation step. Your state’s Disability Determination Services (DDS) office handles this stage in your disability claim’s review. The DDS office makes the initial determination of eligibility for your claim. The DDS review team includes evaluators that may include disability specialists, such as physicians or psychologists.

Before DDS makes a determination, an examiner will decide if you already submitted all required information and documents. If the examiner cannot make a determination without additional documentation, DDS will request them from your healthcare provider(s). At this point, the DDS may request other information from you or your health care providers that they believe is necessary to evaluate your claim.

Rapid communication is essential to expedite your claim, so be sure to include current contact information as well as a fax number. Because the SSA frequently sends or requests new documents, having an easily accessible fax number is ideal.

Step 3: Consultative Examination

The DDS will request that you undergo a consultative examination if they determine that your claim cannot be determined based on the information and documents submitted. A doctor other than your primary physician may perform the consultative examination. However, because your doctor is most familiar with your condition, you may request that the DDS allows your physician to conduct the consultative examination. If the DDS determines that your doctor has the resources and is qualified to conduct the examination, the DDS will approve your request.

Throughout the evaluation, the DDS will consider your health problems and how they might affect your ability to perform previous work experience. They will also consider your level of education and your age. The DDS considers the diagnosis provided by your physician; the severity of the condition; the length of time you have suffered from the condition; and, most importantly, how this condition limits your daily routine and work-related activities. Debilitating factors such as chronic pain, physical limitations, mental limitations, and medication prescribed for these conditions are considered in relation to how they limit your ability to perform any work-like activities.

How Long Does Social Security Disability Approval Process Take?

The Disability Determination Services (DDS) evaluation process can take six months (sometimes longer) to reach a decision. If DDS denies your claim, don’t give up — this happens to most people the first time, especially those who file on their own. Reasons include: technicalities, inadequate medical documentation, not knowing how to describe your disability and other mistakes.

Filing a claim with the help of an experienced Social Security attorney can potentially increase your chance of initial approval and shorten your time to receive benefits. They know exactly how to complete the claim forms and collect the required documentation to potentially shorten the Social Security disability approval process.

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