Long Waits for Social Security Disability Hearing Decisions

Are you currently awaiting a Social Security Disability hearing decision?

Has it been months since you asked for a hearing?  You are not alone.

There are many others out there in the same spot as you.

So why is it taking so long to hear back?

The Process of Requesting a Social Security Disability Hearing

When you are denied for SSDI, you have 60 days to ask for a reconsideration.  Typically, it takes around four months to get a decision on your request for reconsideration.  And, only 12 percent of those people who have asked for a reconsideration actually get approved.

When you are denied a second time, you have 60 days to ask for a hearing in front of an administrative law judge (ALJ).  In 2012 the average wait time for a Social Security Disability hearing decision was 353 days.  Now the average wait time is 596 days or 19 ½ months (this is up from 545 days in September 2017)!

Reasons for the Long Wait

So why is the wait time increasing so much?  According to Mark Hinkle, an SSA spokesperson:


“For several years in a row, the agency received a record number of hearing requests, due primarily to the aging of the baby boomers as they entered their disability-prone years. We also received an increase in applications during the economic recession and its aftermath. During this time, our resources to address disability claims did not keep pace with the increase in applications and backlogs grew. Primarily for these reasons, wait times for a hearing, and the number of pending hearings began to rise.”


And regarding the 986,000 hearings pending and the average wait time is 596 days, even after 15 months of reducing the number of people waiting.  Marilyn Zahm, an administrative law judge in Buffalo and president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges (AALJ), had this to say:


“In 2016, the Social Security Administration received over 2.3 million disability claims, 630,000 more cases than in 2002. Unfortunately, the SSA has not added the personnel, technology or efficiencies needed to address this steady surge.  We now face a crushing backlog of cases, adding long wait times and painful uncertainty to a process that should be swift and secure.”


What is Being Done to Decrease Wait Times

Social Security developed a plan in 2015 to help reduce the backlog of unmade hearing decisions.  The plan included hiring 250 more ALJs plus support staff each year in fiscal 2016, 2017, and 2018.  It also increased the use of video hearings.  The goal was to reduce the waiting time from 595 days to 270 days by the end of fiscal 2020.

In 2016, SSA hired 264 judges but only added 132 in 2017 due to hiring freezes throughout the federal government.

How is the Wait Times Affecting People

The increased wait times are further harming those who are unable to work during the time they are waiting for their Social Security Disability hearing decision.  Some, who are facing mountains of accumulating debt due to being unable to work are even having to file for bankruptcy due to having no income.

What You Can Do Today

The timelines are disastrous for everyone! Your best option is to work with a disability attorney early on in your application and appeal process if only to present the best possible case at all stages of your claim.

Contact Us Today for Help With Your Disability Claim

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

More on this Topic

Short staffing leads to long waits for Social Security disability hearing decisions

Disability Hearing: Tips From a Disability Lawyer

Disability Hearing Tips From a Disability Lawyer

Are you ready for your disability hearing? You are going to be side by side with your attorney, in front of an administrative law judge. Experts will be commenting on your desire and ability to work. And, you will have many things on your mind.

What if they think I am faking my injury?
How will they make a decision?
When will I be able to move past this appeal!?
Is this Social Security nightmare almost over?

This period before your hearing is an uncomfortable time for most people. You are not alone in wondering how everything is going to proceed when you finally get your day in front of the ALJ. Here are a couple of tips to help you get yourself in a mindset that will reduce, though not likely eliminate, your anxiety.

Review Your Challenges & Barriers

At this point, you are bar-none the expert on knowing what your challenges are. How they impact you on a daily basis, and how you are unable to establish and maintain employment because of them. However, you should not be complacent and feel that you can “wing it” when asked.

Even before meeting with your disability attorney for your pre-hearing discussion, you should go over all the issues at least one more time by yourself. Take an hour or so and write down, exactly what challenges you face every day.

Start your review with thinking about how you get up in the morning, make breakfast, your daily routine, evening routine, leisure, chores, nightly routine, and sleep/rest.

This tip sounds simple, almost to the point of unnecessary, but often, we get so busy doing things that we forget the challenges we have to overcome to accomplish them. Taking a couple of minutes to review your day, and write things down, often results in a better personal understanding of your challenges, and puts you in a better frame of mind to recall them for others.

If you have been keeping a disability journal – you have 90% of this covered already.  You just have to simply review it.

Review Your Disability Claim

Now that you have considered your daily barriers, you should examine your disability claim. Make sure to look at things like, when you filed your disability claim. Who helped you file your disability claim? Also, what has the experience been like since you filed your claim?

Try to get a basic timeline put together of your current disability application status. Include application dates, appeals, doctors’ appointments, and even disability lawyer visits if that applies. All of these items are no-doubt already facts of the case, and readily available for both your disability lawyer and the judge, but you should strive to have an accurate and easily recallable understanding of how your disability claim has ended up at the hearing level too.

At worst, going through this exercise will be a bit of time out of your day. However, it might help you to be more effective in telling your story in context during the upcoming hearing, or in conversation with your disability lawyer before the hearing.

Show Up Early to Your Disability Hearing

If there was/is ever a time to be early for something this is it. It is very possible, your disability lawyer set up a prehearing conference with you, just to avoid this. However, regardless of why you should plan to be early, make it happen.

Plan for traffic to be the worst traffic in history. Plan for your vehicle to break down in your driveway. Realize that the bus will miss your stop. Understand that your alarm will break in the middle of the night while you are fast asleep. In the worst of all possible scenarios, how will you make it to your hearing?

Talk to Your Disability Lawyer

This last tip should be obvious, assuming you have a good disability lawyer. However, it is not uncommon to hear stories about claimants who meet their disability lawyer for the first time just prior to their hearing.

If you have a disability lawyer that has given you very little information or even ideas on how to prepare for your hearing, now is the time to be proactive. It may already be very difficult to change horses so far downstream, but that does not mean you have to be completely passive in regards to your disability claim.

Ask your disability lawyer, or their assistant, how you can best prepare. Ask them what info you should bring, whether you are going to be meeting with them, and what to expect. A great disability lawyer will not throw you to the wolves, they will prepare you for your hearing, and will help you so that you do not get blindsided during it.

If you are only now retaining a disability lawyer, keep in mind how well they communicate. We have talked about this before, and the particular threat of going to a disability hearing unprepared is a poignant example of why communication and working with a great disability lawyer matters.

Talk To A Lilac City Law Disability Lawyer Today!
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.