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Applying for SSDI can be a complicated and lengthy process due to state and federal filing requirements, eligibility for benefits, mandatory waiting times, and denied claims. Once you have applied, it takes about 90 days to receive a decision from the Social Security Administration whether your claim is accepted or denied.

The SSDI Application Process in Illinois

The Social Security Administration (SSA) is the federal entity responsible for providing Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) to eligible disabled persons. When you apply for SSDI benefits and your application is approved, you are entitled to receive monthly benefit payments for your disability under federal and state guidelines.

In Illinois, the Bureau of Disability Determination Services (DDS) is the state department that makes the initial determinations about eligibility for disability. When applying for SSDI in Illinois, DDS is responsible for reviewing your application and gathering the necessary information to support the approval of your claim.

Eligibility Criteria for SSDI in Illinois

SSDI pays disability benefits to all workers and their family members when the worker has accumulated sufficient work credits and has worked long enough to pay Social Security taxes on earnings. Under the SSA guidelines, SSDI benefits are financed through Social Security taxes that are paid by employers, workers, and self-employed individuals.

To be eligible for SSDI benefits, a worker is required to earn a sufficient number of work credits based on a taxable work history and have a disability that prevents work activities. If SSDI benefits are approved, they are payable to (1) disabled or blind workers under 65 years of age, (2) the worker’s spouse or widower, (3) the worker’s children, and (4) adults disabled since childhood. The amount of monthly disability benefits allowed is based on the Social Security earnings record of the insured worker and the worker’s work history before the disability began. When SSDI benefits are approved and paid for two years, the worker will automatically receive Medicare coverage.

Other SSA guidelines that must be met for an approved claim include:

1.      Disability or Blindness – You must have a disability that impacts your ability to perform work for at least 12 months or longer, or have a disability that is expected to result in death. Under SSA guidelines, adults must have a medically determined physical or mental impairment that prevents substantial gainful activity. In 2024, SGA is $1,550 per month, or $2,590 if a person is considered blind. To be considered blind, a person must have a central visual acuity for distance of 20/200 or less in his or her better eye, or have a visual field limitation in the better eye.

2.      Work History – You must have a valid work history for at least 5 of the last 10 years. When receiving SSDI benefits, you must report improvements in your medical condition that impacts your ability to work. You must also report other types of income you receive, such as workers’ compensation benefits and public disability from a state or local government. If you’re receiving SSDI benefits, you can return to work for a 9-month trial period and still receive disability payments. The 9 months don’t need to be consecutive, just within a rolling 5-year period.

When you apply for SSDI benefits in Illinois, you can file your application online, by mail, or in person with a local DDS field office. The application will contain questions regarding the nature of your disability and your income. Since state and federal disability guidelines are strict, it’s helpful to work with Chicago Social Security disability attorneys who can guide you through the application process and ensure a more successful outcome.

What Is the Decision-Making Timeline?

When a person has a disability that prevents working and a steady income, disability benefits are needed as soon as possible. Once an application is submitted to a local SSA field office, it can take up to 5 months to get a decision.

Generally, you must wait about 90 days to get a decision on whether your application is approved or denied. In Illinois, the DDS is responsible for gathering and reviewing the required information that supports your SSDI claim. This usually takes at least 60 days or longer, so 90 days is allowed to notify you of a decision. In some cases, the decision-making timeline can take longer than 90 days. This is often due to errors or missing information in the SSDI application.

Common errors include:

  • Errors in the applicant’s personal information
  • Lack of necessary information regarding the applicant’s work history
  • Lack of information regarding the applicant’s disability
  • Missing or incomplete medical records
  • Lack of financial information
  •  Applying after the deadline

Factors That May Impact the Decision-Making Timeline

In addition to errors or missing information in the initial application, the decision-making timeline may also depend on the type and severity of the applicant’s disability and where the application is filed. Once your application is submitted to a local DDS field office, they will look to see if you meet the nonmedical eligibility criteria and if you can’t support yourself financially due to your disability.

Unfortunately, the process for determining each SSDI application timeline varies greatly, and there is no time limit set on when individual decisions should be made. It largely depends on how much information examiners need to collect, how long it will take to collect it, and how many applications they currently have in their queue.

Possible Delays and Their Implications

During the SSDI approval process, DDS will contact your doctors and hospitals you have visited, call your relatives and friends, and go through your work and medical records. To avoid longer processing time and deadly mistakes that can destroy your Social Security disability case, consider hiring s Social Security disability attorney who handles SSDI applications regularly. An experienced attorney will make sure that your initial application is filled out accurately with all required information.

How Will You Receive a Decision?

After applying for SSDI in Illinois, DDS will thoroughly review your application and either approve or deny your benefits. When a decision is reached, you will receive a letter by mail stating that your benefits were approved or denied and what you should do next.

  • Approved Claims – If your claim is approved, you must go through a mandatory five-month waiting period. Once the waiting period ends, you should start receiving your monthly benefit payments within 60 days. If you are owed back pay, the SSA will pay you for 5 to 17 months of back pay in a lump sum. Back pay covers delayed disability payments that were held up during the approval process. The lump sum back pay is usually included in your first monthly benefit payment.
  • Denied Claims How many times can you get denied for disability? If your claim is denied, your attorney can file an appeal on your behalf. Filing an appeal is much better than filing new disability benefit applications because 50% of appeals are successful. New applications will start the filing process over again.

Can You Appeal a Denial?

When filing an appeal, a disability attorney can expedite three important appeal processes:

Request for Reconsideration

If SSA denies your claim, you can file a written Request for Reconsideration within 65 days from the date on the denial letter. During the reconsideration stage, the SSA will ask you to submit to further medical examination. Your disability attorney can ensure that the SSA receives all information regarding your doctor’s visits, treatments and medications, and hospital records. Your attorney can communicate with the SSA to make sure all required information is received.

Request for Administrative Legal Hearing

If your claim is denied after reconsideration, the SSA will send you a second notice. You then have 65 days from the date on the notice to make a written request for a hearing before an administration legal judge (ALJ). These are administrative judges hired by the SSA to conduct hearings. During your hearing, the ALJ may arrange for vocational and/or medical experts to attend the hearing and testify on pertinent matters.

Request for Review by the Appeals Council

If your ALJ decision is unfavorable, you can file one more appeal with the Appeals Council. You have 65 days from the date on the ALJ’s notice to make a written request for review by the Council. At this stage, a review is somewhat limited. Reasons for a review by the Appeals Council often include errors made by the ALJ, an ALJ decision not supported by substantial evidence, and/ or an abuse of discretion in the ALJ hearing process.