The Waiting Might Be the Hardest Part: How Long Does Social Security Disability Review Take?

The information in this article is current as of 10/8/2021. This article does not constitute legal advice.

If you’re one of the ten million Americans who count on Social Security Disability, you probably already know that Social Security will periodically review your condition(s) and your benefits.

If you’ve received and returned your paperwork for a disability review and are still waiting for the response, you probably have a simple question: “how long does Social Security Disability review take?”

The answer to this question may surprise you, but it may also bring you peace of mind, especially when you are worried about paying your rent and keeping your family fed. So keep reading to discover the answer and other important information you need to know!

What Is a Social Security Disability Review?

Our guide focuses on answering how long you are likely to wait for the results of your review, and that means answering a few other questions. The first question is this: what, exactly, is the disability review?

The short answer: once Social Security has approved you for disability benefits, the process never entirely ends. They are only obligated to offer benefits to someone while they are disabled, and depending on the nature of your disability, things may get better or worse over time.

If they should get better, then Social Security may determine that you no longer need your benefits.

As part of this process, Social Security will mail you official paperwork to complete. 

This paperwork may vary in length and complexity. The type of paperwork you get also affects how long you can expect the review process to occur.

Different Kinds of Paperwork

There is no “one size fits all” bit of paperwork for a Social Security Disability review, and in fact there are multiple kinds of paperwork you may encounter as part of this process.

The first type of form is short and known as the Disability Update Report. This is the type of form the majority of those undergoing a review will receive.

If Social Security determines that your condition is likely to have improved, you will get a longer form. This is Form SSA-454, better known as the Continuing Disability Review Report.

Finally, a minimal number of disability recipients will first receive the short mailer and then receive the longer form. If this happens, you have been selected for a full review, and Social Security will soon request a copy of your medical records.

All of these types of paperwork are a bit different. And each one has its effect on how long you can expect to wait for your results.

Understanding the Mailer

The good news is that most disability recipients undergoing a review receive the short-form mailer, which is straightforward to fill out.

This form (the Disability Update Report) only contains six questions. These questions will ask you about whether your health has gotten better, whether you have recently visited your doctor, whether you have spoken with your doctor about returning to work, and whether you have recently completed any work, completed any training, received new benefits, or returned to school.

Once you fill this form out, you mail it back to Social Security. If you are lucky, they will not send you a more extended form, and your paperwork is now over. In this case, you should get your results back somewhere between one and three months.

At this point, Social Security will reset your timer so that you don’t have to do this again for a few years. But some disability recipients will have to deal with a longer and more complex form instead of this short-term mailer.

Understanding the Long-Form CDR

Some who send in the mailer will eventually get a more extended form that they need to complete. Others, however, will be sent a longer form from the very beginning.

Who is selected for this longer form from the beginning? Generally, these are disability recipients that Social Security believed had good odds of improving their health. As you might imagine, this form asks for many more details than the short form.

The Continuing Disability Report will ask extensive questions about your medical history. It will also ask you to describe what your average day looks like and what your various visits to your doctor and other medical facilities have been like. Beyond that, there will also be questions about whether your health has improved and whether you have performed any work since completing your last review.

The more complex form means that you will have to wait longer to get your results. But you should likely get those results back anywhere between three and five months.

Understanding the Full Review

The most extensive review that Social Security can conduct is known as the Full CDR. And as we touched on above, this review is a multi-step process.

To begin, you will receive the short mailer as most recipients do. But if any of your answers make Social Security think they need to conduct a more comprehensive review, they will send you the long-form to complete.

After they receive the longer form, Social Security will request a copy of your medical records. This is because they will be doing their independent medical review of your case.

All of these extra steps add to your wait time. If you undergo the full review, results may come back in five to six months. But depending on certain factors (including how they conduct their medical review), you may have to wait even longer.

What Determines Which Form I Get?

Now that you know there are different forms in play, you probably have another central question: What determines the form you receive precisely?

It all comes down to the profile that Social Security assigns you. There are three different profiles available: high profile, a medium profile, and low profile.

Generally speaking, these profiles line up with the likelihood of your health improving. For example, someone with a low profile has a meager chance of their health improving, and someone with a high profile has a very high chance of their health improving.

But the profiles aren’t always as cut and dry as you imagine. For example, social Security looks at things like your impairment and earnings, but they also pay close attention to your age and work history. Someone who isn’t likely to improve but is relatively young and has done work recently may have a medium profile instead of a high profile. 

Long story short? Those with low profiles are likeliest to receive the short form, and those with medium or high profiles are likely to receive the longer form from the very beginning. 

But if you get the short form, what is likely to get you selected for the full review? Generally speaking, Social Security is wary if you say you haven’t been to the doctor in a while or indicate that you have worked recently. This can cause you to undergo a full review, though Social Security also randomly chooses a small percentage of recipients each year to get a full review. 

Am I Likely To Keep My Benefits?

The disability review process tends to make people nervous. That is because everyone is preoccupied with another critical question: “am I likely to keep my benefits or likely to lose them?”

Here’s some good news: in every sense, the numbers are on your side here. First of all, most recipients receive the short mailer, to begin with. And the majority of those who send the mailer back does not have to undergo the full review. Remember: you can’t lose any benefits until they conduct a full review.

As for the overall amount, who loses their benefits? In 2017, less than 5% of those chosen for a disability review lost benefits. So you hopefully won’t have any trouble paying your bills after the review is done.

Now, the odds worsen if you are chosen for a full review, with 17% of recipients losing benefits after undergoing a full medical review. But your best defense against this is carefully choosing your answers, regularly going to the doctor, and avoiding work if you cannot work without hurting yourself. In addition, don’t be afraid to seek out assistance programs to help support your family rather than risking your health by going to work.

How Long Does Social Security Disability Review Take?

All of this brings us back to the big question: how long does the Social Security disability review take?

As we touched on before, it all depends on which form you get at first and whether the administration follows on with a complete medical review. This means it could take anywhere between one month or six months (or even more) to get a response.

If you are ever concerned about how long your review is taking, don’t hesitate to reach out to Social Security with your questions.

Next Steps

Now you have the answer to “how long does Social Security disability review take?” But do you know how to save money each month while you are unable to work?

Save Money on Your Wireless Phone Service

If you qualify for federal disability benefits, you also qualify for Lifeline service. Lifeline is a federal benefit program that makes it possible for low-income consumers to receive access to free or heavily discounted communication services. Click here to find out more and apply for this valuable benefit.

Enjoy Recommended Resources and Amazon Deals

If you’re looking for more ways to save, check out our Recommended Resources page, where you can learn how to save 50% on Amazon Prime membership and use your EBT card on Amazon.