After Social Security does their financial calculation, your case gets sent to Disability Determination Services (DDS) which is a separate office. There, they request all of your medical records from the doctors and hospitals that you told them about in your Initial Application. They send you forms to complete about your Work History and your daily activities. All of this takes time to get back. The forms may only be a week or two, but the medical records can take a few months just by themselves. During this time you may or may not have had some additional medical problems that you have notified DDS about.
Then your medical information goes to a doctor who reads your record and determines if there is enough information. There is almost never enough information to approve you outright, so DDS sends you to one of their doctors. By the time DDS gets those reports back, it has been another month or two. The doctor reviews the medical evidence again and determines what physical limitations there may be. If there is a mental component to your condition, a psychologist will also review the record and give mental limitations. Finally a vocational expert, who is an expert on jobs, will look at the limitations and determine if there are any jobs you can do given the limitations the doctors have given you. Finally the examiner looks at the opinions and makes a decision. You can see why it can take six to eight months to make a decision.
Your first appeal goes through the exact same process. Because you've already been through the process before, it's a bit more streamlined. They may not need the same forms and in theory there are fewer medical records. You will likely have to go to doctor's appointments again for DDS because your condition has probably changed. This time it takes about four to six months to make a decision.
Finally, you appeal a second time and wait for a hearing. The hearing offices are very backed up and this time you just sit and wait for a hearing. The Social Security office sends your case to the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review and then it sits there. Almost a million people are waiting for hearings at any one time and there are 1445 judges to handle them as of 2014. Every judge needs to review the medical evidence in every case, hear the claimant's testimony, and write a decision that's about twenty pages explaining why the claimant should or should not receive disability benefits.
Social Security does not drag its feet on purpose. There are a lot of medical records and decisions to make. Everyone is doing their job as best they can. There are constant efforts to reduce wait times and Social Security is well aware how difficult the long wait is on claimants. While you are waiting, please visit our resources page for help. If you have any questions, please contact The Foster Law Firm at (480)621-7231.