You can’t return to your job. The injury you suffered left you with a permanent disability that means you will never work again. In many ways, it feels like the end, and you’re scrambling around trying to figure out what next steps to take. You still have a long life ahead of you and you must know how to make ends meet.

That’s when you learn about Social Security Disability benefits. You decide to apply, hoping they can help to cover the necessary costs you face.

But that leaves you with one pressing question: How long is this going to take? Are you looking at months without benefits, even if you qualify? What can you do to speed up the process? What should you expect and what does the government claim the time frame looks like?

Let’s start breaking it down.

The SSA claims

First and foremost, per the Social Security Administration (SSA) itself, most people generally wait between three months and five months for the SSA to make a decision. Of course, this is the “typical” wait time, which means that it can take longer. It’s not a guarantee or a promise. It’s just a place to begin.

No real deadline

The catch here is that the SSA does not have any real deadlines that they need to follow. This is true for initial applications and for appeals after an application gets denied. They can take as long as they want or as long as they need. There’s no obligation to stick to that three-to-five month guess, even though they provide it themselves.

Long waits

What this means is that many people experience long wait times that go beyond the estimation. For some, it’s a frustrating six months. For others, it could be as long as two years before they get any of the financial benefits they need. And, as you can imagine, there are all manner of wait times in the middle of that range, as well.

Expedited eligibility

The SSA does recognize that some people cannot afford to wait. Therefore, they allow for some expedited applications. Not everyone is eligible, but you may be if you have a condition listed as part of the Compassionate Allowance List (CAL) and if it is deemed to be terminal. A common example is a type of cancer that doctors can treat but which they cannot cure.

Expedited claims do go through a lot faster. Many take just a month, or 30 days.

Your rights

It is very important to know where you stand and what steps you need to take. Find out as much as you can about your rights and how to seek out the benefits you desperately need on a time frame that works for you.