Social Security disability application process

A Faster Social Security Disability Application Process (2022 Update)

The disability application process takes more time than you might think. And that’s true for both federal disability benefit programs. According to Social Security Administration reports, it takes 149 days to process initial claims, on average. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claims use the exact same medical review standards. However, the two programs differ on income and asset limits for qualified applicants.

How Long Does the Disability Application Review Process Usually Take?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) recommends that people apply for benefits as soon as possible after their disability diagnosis. That’s because it can take anywhere from a few months to a couple of years to get your claim approved. The disability application process is often complex and time-consuming. And with certain medical conditions or impairments, waiting that long for SSD payments means skipping doctor visits (or worse). High medical bills or unpaid living expenses add stress that can make your health problems worse. So, expect to wait at least 3-5 months for the SSA to review your disability application before hearing a decision on your claim.

5 Ways to Speed Up the Social Security Disability Application Process

The SSA fast-tracks any disability application for anyone who’s terminally ill or has a CAL list condition. But you don’t need a special impairment to get the SSA to speed up your disability application review. Learn five ways to move your disability application to the front of the line and fast-track your review.

1. CAL Conditions

Compassionate Allowances (CAL) are medical conditions the SSA deems so severe that they automatically count as a disability. There are currently more than 250 impairments on the SSA’s CAL list. It includes many different cancers, such as acute leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, as well as debilitating diseases, like progressive supranuclear palsy. If you have one or more conditions on the CAL list, the SSA automatically fast-tracks your application. As a result, you may get your first payment just 14 days after applying for Social Security disability benefits.

2. The QDD process

Quick Disability Determinations (QDD) can speed your disability application through the SSA’s review and approval process. The QDD process happens when an applicant likely has a qualifying disability and medical evidence is already available. Identifying QDD claims helps the SSA prioritize its workload. The agency is constantly modifying and expanding the QDD process to put more claimants through.

You don’t have to fill out special forms to get your disability application categorized as CAL or QDD. If your condition’s on the CAL list, then the SSA automatically flags your disability application for faster review. The CAL list helps ensure those with severe disabilities get the help they need faster. For the QDD process, the agency says it uses a computer-based system to determine eligibility for first-time applicants.

3. Get a Social Security attorney to file your disability application for free

Perhaps the best way to get your disability application fast-tracked through the QDD process is having a Social Security attorney file your claim. While you can apply on your own, having an attorney file may help speed up your case. It’s also the best way to ensure you receive the most benefits you qualify for faster. Attorneys can request (and pay for) medical records that support your claim without charging you for this service upfront. Lawyers can even help you fill out your application using language that makes it clear you meet a disability listing in the SSA’s Blue Book.

4. Ask your local representative or senator to launch an inquiry about your SSD application

Asking either your local representative or senator to launch a congressional inquiry can help speed up the Social Security disability application process. While not all of these inquiries will work, they do result in some people’s hearings moving faster.

5. Get a dire need letter

One of the hardest (and longest) parts of the disability application process is scheduling an appeals hearing after your first denial. There aren’t many Social Security judges and they all have huge workloads. For this reason, it’s hard for them to provide a quick ruling on your disability application. SSDI or SSI claimants that desperately need help now can get a dire need letter. This letter explains why you urgently need financial assistance right now. Examples of what constitutes dire need include losing access to medication needed to treat your disability or getting evicted from your home. Anything that puts your health, shelter, food, clothing or access to necessary medical treatment counts as a dire need situation.

It’s free to file a disability application on your own or with professional help from an experienced lawyer. However, only the second option increases your odds for approval. In fact, having a lawyer file your claim nearly triples your approval odds the first time you apply for benefits! Something as basic as leaving a field blank or writing into the form’s margin can add another six months to your wait time. Best of all, Social Security lawyers work on contingency. In other words, if the SSA won’t approve your claim, then you owe the lawyer $0. And if you win, then you’ll only pay a small, one-time fee. Most people who qualify for legal assistance through this website get $12,000 in lump-sum backpay as well as monthly benefits. Those who apply on their own without our help usually wait 18-24 months for their first payment, or never get SSD benefits.

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Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity,, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.