Social Security Disability Resource Center

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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 claims for disability are being filed and B) How many cases are backed up at the social security hearing offices.

The actual wait for a hearing will depend on how many cases are pending at a particular Office of Disability of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR, another way of saying "hearing office). At some offices around the country, the wait time is less than twelve months. At other disability hearing offices, the wait time exceeds 18 months and may be close to two years.

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.

  • Index of Social Security Disability SSI Questions and Answers

  • 56 Answers to Social Security Disability SSI Questions

  • SSDRC Homepage:

    Social Security Disability and SSI Resource Center

    The Most Basic questions about Getting Disability Benefits

    Social Security Disability and SSI Back Pay Benefits

    Social Security Disability SSI and whether or not you can work

    How long does it take for Social Security Disability or SSI?

    Social Security Disability SSI Awards and Award Notices

    Tips, Mistakes, How to Qualify, and How to Win Disability

    Tips and Advice for Social Security Disability and SSI Claims

    Common Mistakes to avoid after being denied for Disability

    Disability Qualifications and How to Qualify for Disability Benefits

    Winning Social Security Disability or SSI, How to Win

    Denials, Appeals, and Getting a Disability Lawyer or Representative

    What you should know about Social Security Disability and SSI Denials

    Social Security Disability and SSI Appeal Process - How to file appeals

    Questions about Disability Lawyers and Hiring a Disability Attorney

    Various Types of Benefits including SSI, Mental, and Child benefits

    SSI Disability Benefits, Questions and Answers

    Social Security and SSI based on Mental Disability

    Social Security Disability or SSI Benefits for Children

    Disability Benefits through Social Security

    Information to start with regarding Disability Claims

    An Overview of Social Security Disability and SSI

    What is considered a Disabling condition by Social Security?

    The Disability Requirements to be eligible for SSD and SSI Benefits

    Filing for Social Security Disability or SSI Benefits

    Social Security Disability and SSI Applications

    Social Security Disability SSI List of Conditions and Impairments

    Social Security Disability SSI: Medical Evidence and Records

    Filing your claim for disability benefits

    Eligibility for receiving disability benefits

    Resources on this site

    Social Security Disability, SSI Terms and Definitions

    Previously answered questions regarding SSD and SSI

    The SSDRC Disability Blog

    For Individuals living in North Carolina

    Disability in North Carolina

    North Carolina Disability Lawyer

    Getting disability in North Carolina

    Information on the following topics can be found here: Social Security Disability Questions and in these subsections:

    Frequently asked questions about getting Denied for Disability Benefits | FAQ on Disability Claim Representation | Info about Social Security Disability Approvals and Being Approved | FAQ on Social Security Disability SSI decisions | The SSD SSI Decision Process and what gets taken into consideration | Disability hearings before Judges | Medical exams for disability claims | Applying for Disability in various states | Selecting and hiring Disability Lawyers | Applying for Disability in North Carolina | Recent articles and answers to questions about SSD and SSI

    These pages answer some of the most basic questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim.

    Application for SSI disability
    Filing for disability and medical conditions that qualify
    How long to get disability benefits when you apply
    Social Security Disability application denied
    Winning disability benefits, how to win
    Winning disability for a mental condition
    Social Security Disability Back pay, SSD, SSI
    Eligible for Social Security Disability SSI
    If you apply for disability in Virginia
    Will I qualify for disability Benefits in Virginia?
    Getting a Disability Lawyer in Virginia