Disability Benefits: The Initial Application Process

The Initial Application Process:  An explanation

By: Disability Group

The first step when applying for Social Security Disability Benefits begins with the Initial Social Security Disability Application. Once you apply for disability benefits, it takes roughly 4-6 months to receive your first decision.

The Initial Application can be filed online or at the your local Social Security Office. The application requires detailed information regarding your conditions and past work.  Once the Initial Application is filed, it is processed by Social Security within 2 weeks to one month and sent to Disability Determination Services, where it resides for the majority of the process. The case is assigned to an adjudicator (the person who will decide your case in this stage) within 1-2 months of being filed and the adjudicator is in charge of the case until a decision is eventually made.

The first step an adjudicator takes is requesting copies of all medical records from the sources listed in the Initial Application. To obtain further information, they usually send out forms called ADL’s for you to complete. These forms request more detailed information about your past work history and functional abilities throughout the day.  Once the adjudicator reviews all your medical records and your ADL form, they review all the evidence together. This is usually the halfway point of the Initial Application process.


if there is, according to the adjudicator,  sufficient evidence in your records to decide that you are fully disabled, the adjudicator will make a decision and send you out a notice that you have been awarded. However, in the much more common event, if your medical records are not detailed enough, the adjudicator will request that a Consultative Exam, or a doctor’s appointment with a doctor designated by Social Security, be scheduled for the you to attend.

What is a Consultative Exam?

These exams are generally brief and designed to provide only the missing information the adjudicator needs. Once the exam is scheduled (usually within 2-4 weeks) and completed, the adjudicator obtains the report written by the doctor and sends that and all other evidence into final medical review. Another doctor reviews all the information and decides if you’re able to return to any type of work.

Medical review is the last step taken and usually occurs right at the 4th-6th month.

Once a decision is made in the Medical Review, your case is sent back to Social Security and you’ll receive a decision notice within 2 weeks.  If you receive an favorable decision you will start receiving benefits shortly.  If you get a denial, take heart, most applications are denied at this initial application level.

For information on how to appeal or help with your initial application, contact us at (800) 248-1100.