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If you're one of the 1.3 million people who file for Social Security disability (SSD) benefits each year, you may be overwhelmed by the lengthy process and unsure about what to expect. What is the first step to take? Will your benefits be accepted? How long will it take to receive benefits? What if your claim is denied?

Here's is a brief outline of what is the next step when filing an SSD claim and when to take it.

When to File Your Claim

File your Social Security disability claim as soon as you suffer from an injury or disability (physical or emotional) that prevents you from working.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) defines disability as "the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) which can be expected to result in death or has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months."

When to Expect a Decision

If you ask the Social Security Administration how long it takes to receive a decision on your SSD claim, you won't find a clear answer. Instead, they report about a variety of scenarios that will affect the length of time it takes for you to receive a decision. Expect to wait around 3-5 months before a decision made, but understand it varies on your eligibility and the number of cases that the SSA needs to review.

If Your Claim is Denied...

When to File an Appeal

Over half of Social Security Disability applications are denied. The majority of individuals who have received SSD benefits have appealed their claim at least once. Do not be discouraged by the denial. If you feel as though you qualify SSD benefits, file an appeal immediately after you receive a denial.

When to Expect a Decision from the Appeal

SSA budget restrictions prevent the organization from hiring the needed amount of judges and staff members, causing a long delay between filing the appeal and attending the Social Security Disability appeal hearing. Because of the large number of claims and the small number of available Administrative Law Judges, applicants may wait up to 26 months to have their benefits claim reviewed. After the hearing, it takes an additional 2-3 months for you to receive a new decision.

When You Will Start Receiving Benefits

If your Social Security Disability benefits claim is accepted, you will begin receiving the benefits in around 1-2 months. Unfortunately, you do not receive them instantly. If it has been longer than 90 days after being approved and you still have not received your benefits, contact the Social Security Administration immediately.

When Do Social Security Benefits End?

Social Security disability benefits end:

  • When the disabled person is no longer disabled or;
  • When the disabled person receiving benefits reaches full retirement age.

If you are able to resume working, then you will no longer receive SSD benefits. If you reach full retirement age, which is the government decided nationally followed age that states you can begin receiving retirement benefits, your SSD benefits will transition into Social Security benefits. Traditionally, but not always, the amount you receive will remain the same.

Of course, there are more reasons that Social Security disability benefits could end. If you feel that your benefits have been wrongfully terminated, contact an attorney.

When to Hire an Attorney

Short answer: immediately. While you can do this on your own, hiring an attorney can exponentially improve your case as well as alleviate your stress going through the application (and most likely appeals) process. Here are a few ways that hiring an attorney can help your Social Security disability claim:

  • Avoid common errors made on SSD applications
  • Prepare questions for the Administrative Law Judge
  • Gather the required medical documents
Ben Glass
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Ben Glass is a nationally recognized car accident and ERISA disability attorney in Fairfax, VA.