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. 

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