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COVID Impact: How long will this application take?

Prior to the virus shutdowns, three to six months for an initial application to be processed was typical.

Since the shutdowns, the processing time has dramatically increased for some of my clients, especially those clients whose applications were filed early 2020. One client's application was filed in January 2020, and we didn't receive the initial determination until January 2021. A whole year! That was ridiculous.

I believe that delay was due to the implementation of remote work for all SSA and DDS staff, the adjustment period for new remote work protocols, and the suspension of consultative examinations. Add to that mess the ripple effect of medical offices and related business facilities being shutdown or understaffed. DDS has to order a claimant's records, but there has to be a person in the doctor's office to receive the request and fulfil it, or forward it to the records copying service, which has to be staffed to process the request and either mail the records, which is dependent upon the USPS (and we all know the plight of the USPS) or transmit the records electronically to the DDS, where the records then have to uploaded to the claimant's file, so the disability examiner can review them and evaluate the claim.

I have never been able to precisely predict how long any specific application process will take - anyone who tells you they can is lying - but the shutdowns have widened the range so much.

More recently, it seems the processing time has begun to normalize a bit. Last week, I received the initial determination for another client's October 2020 application. Four months. That's a more typical processing time - and an amazing improvement under the circumstances! On the other hand, I have several applications for other clients filed in August and September that are still processing.

It doesn't make a lot of sense and reminds me of my all-too-familiar predicament in long lines at the grocery store: a new cashier opens another lane, but instead of taking "the next in line," the people in the latter half of the long line (you know, the ones who just got in line) fill the new lane - and are probably at home cooking dinner while I'm still checking out.

I really wish I could give you - and my clients - a more precise, reliable timeframe, but I can't. The variables likely include which field office handles the application, which DDS handles the ordering of records and evaluation, the availability of examining doctors, and even down to the particular staff handling each step.

It's getting better, though. Hang in there!


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