On average, Social Security Disability appeals take months to resolve. Once you have your appeal hearing, it’s easy to feel a deep sense of relief. However, waiting on untimely court determinations creates unexpected stress.
Did your attorney do everything correct?
Did your attorney make the strongest case?
Did the social security doctor ruin your claim?
Can you really not perform any work in the economy?
As you wait for the Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) to determine the next step in your disability appeal, you should familiarize yourself with the different scenarios you and your attorney will work through.
It Can Take 60-Days After Your Appeals Hearing
Before you can take any action after your hearing, you’ll need to get the results. Typically, this takes about sixty days after the hearing, but this can vary based on various factors. The administrative law judge on your case doesn’t have a specific time limit they must abide by. That means it could potentially take six months for them to make a decision and complete the process, though other judges could make a decision in as little as six weeks.
You can always check the status of your case online at Electronic Records Express. The status will read as “pending decision,” “in review,” “complete,” etc. If sixty days have passed and your claim is still in the pending phase, you’ll probably be waiting quite a while for your results to arrive.
Making Sense of Medical Evidence and Bench Decisions
One of the biggest obstacles to getting timely results is missing medical information. The administrative law judge will need to have all the necessary medical records to make a decision, even if the judge ordered a consultative examination. Whatever the case may be, the judge won’t even start the process until they have all the necessary medical information. Any delays in getting medical records to a judge can prolong the process and delay your results. Delays can be especially troubling if the judge requests more medical evidence or additional examinations by a doctor paid for by Social Security.
The good news is you’re able to make additional arguments while waiting for your results. It is a good idea to consult with your attorney and submit new evidence or testimony that was not provided at the initial hearing. While new pieces of evidence can slow down the timeline of getting results, they can make your case stronger. Ultimately, waiting a bit longer for approval is still going to be faster than getting denied and having to appeal.
If you’re particularly lucky, you may get what’s known as a bench decision. A bench decision is a favorable decision at the end of the hearing. While bench decisions occur in a small percentage of cases, it typically means that your written decision will arrive sooner rather than later. However, you’ll still have to wait for the written decision to be issued before you can receive any disability benefits.
Your Disability Claim: Approval or Denial
In an ideal scenario, your claim will be approved after the hearing. You’ll receive written notice upon approval. Once approved, it is important to notify a Social Security representative that you have not been involved in any significant work since your claim was first filed. Alternatively, your claim can be denied. When this happens, your file is held at the Social Security office and you’ll receive written notice. The written notice of your denied claim contains instructions should you choose to appeal. Take care to note that filing paperwork on time is the first step for a successful appeal, and consulting an attorney can help you navigate the appellate process.
Understanding the ALJ: The Judge’s Decision
Your notification of the administrative law judge’s decision will come in one of three forms: a fully favorable decision, a partially favorable decision, or an unfavorable decision. An unfavorable decision is one in which your claim is denied. The favorable decisions have a few critical differences. Knowing the difference between the two favorable decisions is key when determining how much benefits you can expect to receive.
A fully favorable decision is one in which the judge approves your claim and agrees with the stated onset date in the initial claim as well as future benefits payments moving forward.
A partially favorable decision, on the other hand, is one in which the judge moves the onset date to a more recent date. This decision is based on their evaluation of the submitted medical evidence. Put simply, a partially favorable decision simply reduces the amount of back pay one is entitled to.
Occasionally, however, a judge may determine that your partially favorable decision entitles you to a closed period of benefits moving forward rather than ongoing benefits for the foreseeable future. This ruling is meant to help people with temporarily debilitating disabilities that will eventually get better, allowing them to return to the work and income that they’re used to.
Your Next Step in Your Disability Case: Timing Your Appeal
When you get your decision, it may not be the one you want. If you are still denied benefits, you will have to start the appeals process. The most important thing to remember about this process is its time limit. You only have sixty days to ask for an appeal after you receive the decision. Anything later than that, and you’ll have to start the process over again. Keep in mind that the sixty-day limit starts from the day you receive the decision in the mail, which is presumed to be approximately five days after the SSA sends it.
If you fail to make this filing deadline, your appeal will likely be dismissed and you will be stuck with the bad decision. There are some exceptions, however, to the deadline if you have a good reason. In fact, you can write to the Social Security office to request an extension on the time limit, though you have to have a valid reason, such as an unforeseen emergency or event.
Final Approval of Your Disability Case
If your disability claim was approved by the judge and a Social Security representative has determined you are not partaking in gainful work, you will receive a Notice of Award letter confirming that you are entitled to benefits. This notice will contain all the relevant details to your case, including how much your benefits will be as well as when these benefits can be expected to arrive.
The onset date is one of the most important factors of your final approval. Keep in mind that payments do not start based on the date of your approval. Payments are based on the onset of your disability, meaning you will likely have back pay coming your way after the judge reviews all the medical evidence. However, it is possible that your onset date will change in your final approval, altering the amount of back pay you receive in total.
How to Collect Your Disability Award: Getting Your Payments
Once you’ve received approval for your benefits, your file is transferred to a payment processing center. Usually, your payments will start coming in within a month, though there are some cases in which you’ll see mysterious payments in your account before you even get your approval. That’s not a likely scenario, of course, but it happens. Keep in mind that these trends are only the case if your onset date is more than five months before the date you were approved.
Some considerations could delay your payments. For example, if you’re approved for both disability and Supplemental Security Income, two offices will have to communicate and work together. They’ll need to make calculations to consider any limitations on payments that might restrict your overall benefits. That can delay your payments by several months.
While You’re Waiting
While you’re waiting for your results to come in, it’s helpful to take any other steps you may need to help your situation. Make sure your future isn’t entirely dependent on getting disability benefits. Instead, submit claims for any other kind of benefits you may be entitled to, such as food stamps. Not only will that help ensure that you have the basics covered, but it also makes it easier to bounce back and keep going in case you are denied disability benefits. Getting your decision will always take longer than one of your bill cycles, so having contingencies in place is going to be essential regardless.