How Long Does It Take To Go Before A Judge For Disability Benefits?

There is no standard length of time it takes to go before a judge for Social Security Disability benefits. The length of time can vary from state to state, disability agency to disability agency, and hearing office to hearing office.

If the questioner is asking how long it will take to get a social security hearing held, and then to receive to receive a decision on a claim, then one way to address this question, of course, is to examine processing times for the individual offices of disability adjudication and review (ODAR), otherwise known simply as social security hearings offices. Some offices (as of this writing) have a processing time as short as 172 days (Shrevesport Louisiana). This just shy of six months.

Other hearings offices such as the hearing office in Raleigh North Carolina hearing office have a processing time of approximately three hundred days, approximately ten months. And at the far end of the spectrum are those hearings office that, due to their backlogs, have a processing time well in excess of 400 days or more. Those currently include Springfield Missouri, Grand Rapids Michigan, Buffalo New York, and Greensboro North Carolina.

How long is it from the very beginning?

However, when a person asks the question, "how long does it take to go before a judge for a Social Security Disability or SSI case?", very often what they really mean is--"how long will it take to get all the way to the disability hearing level...from the start of the process". To answer the question in that manner, we have to start at the beginning of the process, at the disability application, or initial claim, level.

It takes an average of one hundred days for an initial disability claim to receive a decision. The majority of initial disability claims are denied of course. These claims are decided by disability examiners working in state disability processing agencies known as DDS, or disability determination services, though in some states the state agency that handles decision-making for the social security administration is sometimes known as the bureau of disability determination or some variation of this name.

National statistics indicate that the denial rate for initial disability claims is about seventy percent. It varies from state to state, but over the last decade, this average has remained remarkably consistent on a national average basis.

When disability claims are denied at this level, the claimant has the choice of discontinuing the pursuit of the claim, filing a new claim, or appealing. Filing a new claim is only a viable option in a very very small percentage of claims, such as when a claim is given a a technical denial.

If a disability applicant wants to continue to pursue their disability claim they must file a reconsideration appeal. They have sixty-five days from the date of their denial notice to get their reconsideration appeal sent in and received by their local Security office.

The reconsideration appeal is the beginning of the Social Security Disability and SSI appeal process. Reconsideration appeals are sent to the same state disability agency that made the initial disability decision. The only substantial difference is that the reconsideration appeal is sent to a different disability examiner for a decision.

Facts about the Reconsideration Appeal Process

The reconsideration appeal processing time is generally shorter than the initial disability claim, because the reconsideration appeal is just another subsequent review of the medical evidence already in the file. Average processing time for a reconsideration appeal is about sixty days. If there is no new medical evidence to support a finding of disability, or there was no error in the initial disability examiner's disability determination, the reconsideration appeal is denied.

Reconsideration appeals have the highest denial rate in the Social Security Disability process; depending on one's state of residence, anywhere from eighty-five to ninety percent of all reconsideration appeals may be denied in a given year. Again, over the last decade, the rate of denial at this level of the Social Security Disability and SSI appeal process has been very consistent.

Appeals made to the Social Security Hearing Level

If a disability applicant receives a reconsideration appeal denial, they have sixty-five days to get their request for an administrative law judge review appeal to their local Social Security office. Officially, this appeal is called a "request for hearing before an administrative law judge". The appeal request is once again sent to the social security office, as was the case with the request for reconsideration appeal. However, the appeal is not transferred to DDS, but, rather, to the hearing office (ODAR, or office of disability adjudication and review).

The administrative law judge hearing appeal has the longest processing time of all levels of the Social Security Disability process. Most of the processing time can be attributed to the long wait times for disability hearings. While wait times vary across the nation, it is not unusual to wait twelve months or more for an administrative law judge hearing. In fact, there are some states in which the wait is fifteen months or more.

Social Security has worked to reduce the waiting time for disability hearings but it has been difficult due to a dramatic increase in new disability claims atop of already historically high hearing backlogs.

In a nutshell, it could easily take two years or more to go before a judge for disability benefits, considering that it takes about three months to get an initial disability decision, another two months to get a reconsideration appeal decision, then the long wait for the disability hearing itself.

If a disability applicant waits until the last minute to file their reconsideration and administrative law judge review appeals it could add another four months to the time it takes to go before a judge.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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