The Disability hearing decision
by Tim Moore, Disability Representative in North Carolina
How long does it take to get a hearing decision?
How long it will take to get a decision from your disability hearing can vary greatly. It can depend on backlogs. It can also depend on the particular judge that you had, and sometimes it just “depends”.
(Read if you live in North Carolina)
How long a decision takes from the time you requested the hearing
That said, according to Social Security, in a recent year it took an average of 318 days, or 10.5 months, to get a decision after the hearing was requested and later held. Most of this wait was due to how long it took to get a hearing date in the first place. Depending on where you live, it can actually take between 1-2 years to get a hearing date.
How long a decision takes after the hearing has been held
After your disability hearing with an ALJ (administrative law judge) has been held, the judge may tell you that you will receive the decision within a certain number of days. Some may say 60 days, some may say 45-90 days. It can depend on who your judge was, as well as the backlogs at that particular hearing office.
However, it is not unusual to have to wait several months to receive a disability hearing decision.
Note: If the decision is taking too long, you or your lawyer can contact the hearing office and request the status. In most instances, they will simply tell you that no decision has been made, but sometimes a status call can help move a case along faster.
Why does it take so long to get the decision after the hearing?
One reason is that hearing offices have backlogs. Another reason, though, is that most administrative law judges do not write their own disability decisions. Judges most often send their disability decisions to decision writers (usually, a staff attorney at a hearing office).
Once the decision writer completes their written decision, they give it back to the administrative law judge to review and make corrections. Of course, if there are corrections to be made it can take even longer to get the formal decision to the disability applicant.
How you are notified of the hearing decision
When the decision is made, you and your lawyer will receive the written notice of decision. If the decision is an approval, the notice of decision will be followed by the notice of award. This will tell you how much your monthly benefit will be, and the month you became eligible for a benefit payment. Later, you will receive more letters about back payments and other payment issues.
Can the judge tell you at the hearing what the decision will be?
Sometimes, a judge will tell you what the decision is without having to wait for a written notice. This is called a Bench Decision, a formal oral decision that is definitive and can eliminate weeks or months of time that you would spend waiting for your decision letter.
The chance of receiving a bench decision will increase when a claimant’s disability attorney or Social Security representative submits a well organized brief to the judge prior to the hearing date.