Applicants may appeal the Social Security Administration’s denial of disability benefits, which usually involve a hearing before an administrative law judge. They generally have a 50% success rate at the hearing stage. But this may be a lengthy and complex process.
The average length of time for Social Security disability appeals to reach ALJs was nine months beginning from the time the appeal was filed in November of 2021. This is a national figure for the SSA’s 168 regional hearing offices, and some cases may be months longer or quicker.
In most situations, claimants must first ask the state’s disability determination services for reconsideration. This is the same entity that handled their application. Another disability examiner and medical team reviews claims and any additional evidence such as medical treatment or examinations presented by claimants.
Claimants have 60 days from the initial denial to file for reconsideration. The average processing time for disability reconsideration is three to four months.
Most times, claimants’ reconsideration efforts are unsuccessful. But they have 60 days to request their hearing before an ALJ, who will review the evidence and possibly allow claimant and expert witness testimony.
Hearing wait times, after filing, may vary greatly based upon location and the specifics of each case. The average delay is five to 15 months.
SSA must send 75-days’ advanced notice of a scheduled hearing date. Waiving this notice may reduce wait times but applicants must still submit evidence before their hearing.
Delays may be attributed to the volume of hearing requests. SSA receives hundreds of thousands of hearing requests each year. Before the cases may be heard, the 1,350 judges in the SSA appeals system must review the increasingly large amount of documentation in the case files.
In a 2021 report, the General Accountability Office determined that many judges are struggling to stay current with their yearly goal of issuing at least 500 decisions.
There is a glimmer of positive hope, however. The SSA greatly reduced its case backlog and waiting period in recent years. Increased funding has financed better information technology and other improvements.
At the end of the 2021 federal fiscal year, there were over 350,000 cases awaiting hearings compared with the backlog of 1.1 million cases a few years ago. The national wait time for hearings dropped from 19 months to less than half that time since September of 2017.
Also, claimants who do not have the resources to obtain food, shelter or medicine may submit a dire need letter to SSA seeking faster treatment.
Attorneys can assist claimants during this process. They can help them to comply with procedures and present their best case for benefits.