Why is it Taking so Long to get a Court Date with the ALJ, the Social Security Disability Judge?

This is a question that was recently submitted. And the answer is: it takes a long time to get a scheduled disability hearing date because of: a) How many
This is precisely why, when some individuals ask if they should get their disability claim filed (because they have extremely difficulty doing their job due to a worsening physical or mental impairment), or if they should wait, my own stock answer is this: if you feel that your condition has grown in severity to the point where you will be unable to work and earn a livable income, consider getting your disability claim started because the total wait for benefits may reach as long as 2-3 years.

Why is the total process of filing for disability so long? Let's consider the various stages of the process. The application for Social Security Disability (or application for SSI disability, whatever the case may be) can generally run anywhere from 3-6 months.

As a disability examiner, I encountered a number of initial disability claims that actually took as long as a year due to complicating factors (which can include someone having had a myocardial infarction (
heart attack) or cerebrovascular accident (stroke), and in those situations the disability examiner will typically have to wait several months before working on the case to see how the person has recovered from the medical event). However, generally, an initial claim will take a routine 3-6 months.

The second step of the process, assuming a person has been denied on a disability application (and, nationally, this occurs about 70 percent of the time so it is a safe bet that the majority of applicants will have to proceed to the second step) is the request for reconsideration.

This first appeal is handled, from a case processing perspective, exactly the same way as the initial claim. The only real difference is A) there will be a different disability examiner working on the case and B) Most of the case development will already have been done by the disability examiner who made the decision on the initial claim, or disability application. For this reason, most reconsideration appeals tend to be completed faster than initial claims, usually in under 60 days.

The third step of the process is the request for hearing before an administrative law judge. This is the level of the system that comes into play if a person is denied on a reconsideration appeal. Reconsiderations have, according to recent statistics, about an 87 percent denial rate. This is a national average, and in some states the rate of denial on a reconsideration may be somewhat higher or lower.

The disability hearing step, by contrast, has a much higher approval rate. For unrepresented claimants (those without a disability lawyer), the chances of being approved for disability benefits are a little better than 50 percent. For claimants with representation (and it should be mentioned that the representative can be a non-attorney disability representative, or a lawyer), the rate of approval exceeds 60 percent.

Getting a case heard by an administrative law judge, or ALJ, should be the goal of every claimant who gets denied on a disability application. However, the time involved in navigating a claim for disability through the appeals process can be lengthy and it can be financially strenuous for a person to ensure.

But because it does take so long to get through, most individuals who have a disabling condition should probably get their claim filed and "in the pipe" as soon as possible. And one chief reason for this is that due to a number of factors (such as A) the population of the United States getting older and filing more retirement and disability claims B) the federal social security administration workforce becoming smaller and, therefore, less able keep up with the workload), the wait for disability benefits will probably continue to lengthen.

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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