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What Is the Average Waiting Period for SSDI Benefits to Begin?

If you qualify as an “insured” person, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) provides benefits. This means you worked and paid enough Social Security taxes into the system. Qualifying for SSDI takes an average of three to seven months; however, some applicants can be fast-tracked, while others may take years when pursuing appeals. Once approved, SSDI payments begin after a five-month waiting period from the official onset date of your disability.

If I’m Approved, Why Must I Wait?

Since the SSDI benefits program began in the mid-1950s, the five-month waiting period has ensured applicants genuinely have a lasting disability instead of a short-term illness or injury from which they may recover. This waiting period also discourages those who can work from applying.

Congressional research finds that eliminating the waiting period would be costly. For those truly in need, a 2020 federal law eliminates the wait in specific circumstances, such as a disability due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

You may also skip the waiting period if you go back on disability after being off benefits for up to five years if your SSDI stopped when you returned to work and exceeded Social Security’s earnings limit for disabled beneficiaries. Benefits can resume immediately through the expedited reinstatement provision. Provisional benefits are available for up to six months while Social Security determines if you are entitled to SSDI again.

Disability Onset Date

The date your disability began, or the onset date, differs from the SSDI application or approval date. It is the date when a medical condition officially resulted in the inability to work. Therefore, this date can be weeks or months before filing for benefits. Once an application is approved, the claims process may not seem that long.

According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), in November 2022, the average time to process an application for SSDI was 204 days, nearly seven months. While the five-month waiting period will be over at that time, you may still receive retroactive SSDI for up to twelve months prior to the application filing date, depending on the determination of the disability onset date. This policy is particularly important to those who successfully appeal a claim.

When filing for SSDI, your claim will have your “alleged onset date” or the date you believe you became disabled. Social Security may accept this date or, depending on the evidence in your case, choose another date. The final decision determines the “established onset date,” the starting point of the five-month waiting period.

First Benefit Payment

When the SSDI application and approval process is complete, you will receive a favorable written decision. This decision will have the SS-approved onset date, which links to the benefit payment start date.

For example, if your disability onset date is January 17, your initial payment will be for July, following the five-month waiting period rule. However, you receive your check in August as Social Security pays benefits the month AFTER the month in which they are due.

If your claim goes through a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), you may have to wait longer because of the backlog of ALJ cases in many states. A favorable appeal goes to the payment processing center, where it can take an additional one to three months for benefits to start. Social Security will automatically calculate if back payments are due.

Remember your SSDI benefit amount is determined by your work history and payment into the Social Security tax system. The SSA provides online calculators to estimate the benefit amount. Receiving other public benefits may lower your SSDI benefit. These include the following:

  • Public disability benefits
  • Worker’s compensation
  • Pensions received through work not covered by Social Security (some government or foreign employment)

Fast-Track Applications

Some severe health conditions and illnesses immediately meet disability standards. The SSA has two fast-track processes. The first is the Quick Disability Determinations (QDD) which uses a computer-based predictive model, screening initial applications to identify cases where favorable disability determination is highly probable and medical evidence is available and complete. Because the SSA can identify QDD claims early in the process, they can prioritize and expedite these cases. Since 2008, this predictive modeling technique has identified strong candidates who qualify.

The second fast-track application process is Compassionate Allowances (CAL). The CAL process also uses technology to quickly identifies medical conditions and diseases that meet the SS standards for disability benefits. This initiative reduces waiting time to conclude disability determination for those experiencing serious disabilities or illnesses.

How a Disability Attorney Can Help

The SSDI program is full of exceptions and changes in laws and guidelines. Your claim and application process for SSDI is unique to your work experience and the disability or medical illness that precludes you from working. A disability attorney manages all the application details, which are overwhelming to those unable to work. Most disability attorneys work on a contingency basis and only receive payment when you successfully receive SSDI benefits. The Social Security Administration monitors and approves your lawyer’s fee.

The majority of SSDI applications are initially denied. SSA statistics show only 22 percent of first applications are approved, while 63 percent are denied. Your lawyer understands the application process and how to increase the likelihood of first-time approval. With Social Security processing time averaging three to seven months, a successful first claim payment ensures the best possible outcome.

We hope you found this article helpful. Please contact our office today at (832) 761-7773 and schedule a consultation to discuss your legal matters. We look forward to the opportunity to work with you.