How long does a request for a disability hearing appeal take?

There are two aspects to this question: how long it takes to get a hearing scheduled, and how long it take to get to get a decision after a hearing has been held.

How long does it take to get a disability hearing scheduled?

Due to backlogs, and depending on which part of the country you live in, it can take well over a year. In the recent past, waits of two years or longer, from the time a request for hearing has been submitted (usually via a disability attorney), were not unheard of. Depending on how well the SSA disability system is funded and staffed in the future, such extreme wait times could conceivably return.

How long does it take to get a decision from a social security administrative law judge?

Again, this varies. Some judges will get the decision notice out fairly quickly. Others will take an inordinate amount of time. Much of this has to do with the fact that judges make decisions but do not actually write the lengthy decision notices themselves. Notices of decision (unfavorable, partially favorable, fully favorable) are written by decision writers at hearing offices (who are usually staff attorneys).

There are instances in which a disability judge will actually indicate at the hearing what the decision is

This is known as a bench decision and the judge would only do this if the decision was a fully favorable approval). However, even in these cases, the actual decision notice may not come for many months, again because the decision-writer needs to compile the decision notice...and the decision-writer may be as backed up as the judge due to how backlogged the system is in general.

As someone who has previously been a disability examiner, and as someone who has been involved in claimant representation, I can state that there are cases in which it can take as long as nine months to receive a decision from a judge following a hearing. However, these cases are the minority. Usually, a claimant can expect to get a decision after a disability hearing has been held in ninety to one hundred twenty days.

Without a doubt, the wait for a decision notice following a hearing can be very frustrating. While the case is pending (waiting for a decision), the claimant, can periodically call for a status update. Generally, a claimant who has been to a disability hearing will be represented so the representative's office will make the occasional status update call to the hearing office.

How useful are such calls? While most calls to the hearing office will simply get a response similar to "no decision has been made yet", there are instances in which a judge's clerk will notify the claimant's attorney (or the attorney's assistant) that certain medical evidence still needs to be entered into the file. Typically, this would have been evidence that was requested by the disability attorney and which had not arrived by the time the hearing was held (Judges will ordinarily hold the hearing "open" for a certain period to allow the claimant's lawyer time to obtain the records from the medical provider).

However, there are cases in which "something has fallen through the cracks", meaning that the evidence in question was not received by the judge's clerk...or the evidence was received and the judge's clerk failed to realize this. So, for this reason alone, status update calls are always a good idea. And this applies to other levels of the disability appeal system as well.

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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