Well the answer is that depends. The length of time it will take to be approved for disability benefits depends greatly on your age, conditions you have, the area you live in, and how quickly your medical providers respond.
For most people, the SSA disability benefits process has 3 steps, the Initial application, Reconsideration, and the Hearing level. While Reconsideration and Hearing levels are appeals, they are non-binding appeals, meaning the decision maker is not bound by the earlier decision of the levels below it. For most people the initial level will take anywhere from 6-9 months, reconsideration 6-9 months, and the wait for a hearing can be anywhere from 8 months to over 2 years.
If you have a condition that is deemed to be terminal, your case is generally fast tracked by Social security and your time frames will be much shorter. I have seen hearings held on terminal claims within 2 months of filing the Request for Hearing.
In the 10 prototype states, Alabama, Alaska, California (Los Angeles North and Los Angeles West Branches), Colorado, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, and Pennsylvania, there is no reconsideration level. Thus after an Initial denial your appeal is directly to the Hearing level.
For many, it is the wait for a Hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge that takes the longest time. Unlike the Initial and Reconsideration levels where delays could be caused from waiting for medical records or specific time frames the rules require to pass after a certain event that has happened to you like surgery or a seizure, the Hearing level is much more like standing in line. You must wait for all those who got in line in front of you to have their cases dealt with before your case is scheduled..
There are some circumstances where your case can be expedited. These exceptions include a terminal illness (called a TERI case), Compassionate Allowance (Listing of all Conditions that fall under this category), and Dire Need. Social Security’s definition of Dire need is that you are without and unable to obtain food, medicine, or shelter. It is a very difficult standard to meet and if it seems that SSA expects you to be homeless in order to expedite your case, you’re not far off from the truth. SSA and your attorney knows it is difficult to pay your bills while you await the resolution of your case. Almost everyone apply for benefits is in a similar situation. If SSA expedite one claim because that person cannot pay all their bills, they have to expedite everyone’s case and then you are right back where you started.
You can view the average wait times for a Hearing, by hearing office here. Remember these are average times and your case may take longer or shorter. In addition, your case may be handled at a satellite office or by video conference, which may affect your wait.