Applications can be filed at local SSA field offices or on the Internet, and initial decisions can be made within a few months. The applications are initially processed by a state-operated Disability Determination Services (DDS) agency. The DDS collects the applicant's medical records and may require the applicant to have a medical examination, at SSA's expense. In 2012, it took an average of 102 days for a DDS to process a claim (SSA 2012).
For applicants who meet the impairment listings, the application process is often relatively quick because they are allowed by the DDS. However, the process can take much longer--sometimes years--for those who do not meet the impairment listings, are initially denied benefits, and then appeal the decision. According to an analysis of claims filed in 2008, DDS offices accepted 37.5 percent of all initial claims, including both those who do and do not meet an impairment listing. Just over half of all claims in 2008 were accepted either at the DDS level or on appeal by October 2010 (Social Security Advisory Board 2012). The average wait time from an appeal hearing request to a decision was 362 days in 2012 (SSA 2012).8 Beneficiaries have several opportunities to appeal a denied claim, and in most cases, the claimant must appear at a private hearing with an ALJ.