Because of the Social Security Disability backlog of cases. There are so many open disability cases, it takes a long time for the SSA to process all of the claims.
Social Security’s NETSTAT report gives the average time (in months) from the hearing request date until a hearing is held for claims pending in the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (“ODAR”). The chart can be found at the following web address: http://www.ssa.gov/appeals/DataSets/01_NetStat_Report.html
The NETSTAT report states that the wait time for the Mobile ODAR, which covers the Greater Pensacola Florida area, is currently 13 months (updated as of March 2013). This wait time does not go back to when the claim was first filed. It begins when the Request for Hearing was filed (the Request for Hearing is the second appeal, which comes after the Request for Reconsideration). Thus, it is not unusual for a hearing to take place 1.5 to 2 years after the disability application was filed!
Applying for disability is a great hardship. The family has lost an income source, so money is tight. You want to work, but are unable to do so due to a disabling condition. The disability application process becomes even more disheartening when you find out how long Social Security takes to process the claims.
Over the last five years, Social Security’s disability workloads have grown significantly due in part to baby-boomers reaching their disability-prone years and an economic downturn with high unemployment. Since Fiscal Year (“FY”) 2007, initial disability claim receipts have increased by nearly 30 percent. In FY 2011, Social Security received nearly 3.3 million initial disability applications, over 30,000 more than Social Security received in FY 2010. Social Security anticipates receiving nearly 3.3 million applications in FY 2012 and over 3.1 million in FY 2013.
Consequently, the number of appeals has also grown, which means that the time to process the appeals has grown.
In FY 2011, Social Security received a record number of requests for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge – nearly 860,000 requests, which is 20 percent more than it received FY 2010. In FY 2007, almost half of all claimants who requested hearings had waited more than 270 days for a hearing decision, and some waited up to 1,400 days. At the end of FY 2011, 29 percent of hearing requests were over 270 days old and virtually no cases were over 775 days old.
At the end of FY 2008, the average wait for a hearing decision peaked at nearly 18 months. Since that time, Social Security has steadily reduced the wait. In FY 2011, Social Security cut the average wait to below one year for the first time since 2003. However, this year-long wait is not calculated from the date the claimant filed the initial application. It is calculated from the time the Request for Hearing was filed, which is typically from 3 to 6 months after the application was originally filed. That means the average wait from initial application to a hearing before a judge is still approximately 1.5 to 2 years! I don’t tell you this to discourage you, but to let you know that the delay is due to the incredibly large number of applicants and the huge backlog of cases Social Security has pending. 3.1 million claims are a lot of claims to process.
How Long Does It Take to Receive an Approval or Denial Decision on a Disability Claim?
There is simply no way to determine or predict how long a case will take. Unlike other programs (such as the Department of Social Services, for example), the federal Social Security disability program, unfortunately, does not have deadlines to issue decisions on applications or appeals. Although there are no time limit deadlines to issue decisions, the following attempts to give some estimates of how long each stage of the disability process typically takes:
The Initial Claim
Social Security advises that it may take up to 180 days to issue a decision on a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI or SSD) or SSI claim. That being said, the average length of time it typically takes to receive a decision on your disability claim is from three to five months. It can vary depending on several factors, but primarily on:
- The nature of your disability;
- The number of medical providers you identified in your application;
- How quickly we obtain medical evidence from your doctor or other medical source;
- Whether it is necessary to send you for a medical examination in order to obtain evidence to support your claim; and
- If your claim is randomly selected for quality assurance review of the decision.
The first appeal after an initial denial is a Request for Reconsideration. A “Recon” Request typically takes between three weeks and three months to be decided. The length of time at this stage is typically determined by the amount of new records that must be obtained, and whether a consultative examination has been ordered.
The Hearing Before an Administrative Law Judge
If the Request for Reconsideration is denied, the claimant must file a Request for Hearing Before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). There is “good news” and “bad news” about this stage of the process. The good news is that this is the claimant’s best chance of winning (statistically). The bad news is that it can take a horrendously long time to get to a hearing. In fact, it can take as long as two years for a hearing before and ALJ can take place and for benefits to be awarded.
An appeal to an ALJ usually takes much longer because a hearing has to be scheduled and heard. In the Mobile, Alabama, and Pensacola, Florida area, the wait averages 13 months.[Note: this does not run from the initial application; this is the wait from the time the Request for Hearing is filed after Reconsideration.]
How to Speed Up Social Security Disability Claims
At the Ortiz Law Firm, we understand that it can be difficult not knowing when you’ll receive an answer to your claim when you are out of work and short on income while you wait for your disability case to be decided.
I get e-mails asking this question frequently, but often worded differently.
- “How do I get an SSDI or SSI decision faster?”
- “How do I speed up my Social Security disability?”
- “What can I do to get a quicker decision on my SSD or SSI claim?”
They all mean the same thing. The bottom line is people want to know how to speed up the process of getting their Social Security disability. They want to win fast, and I am going to list some ways on this site that can help that happen. However, keep in mind that pretty much nobody who decides to apply for Social Security disability will have a quick and pleasant experience. Some form of financial hardship must be expected.
Frankly, it has never been easy to speed up an SSDI or SSI decision, because the Social Security Administration simply can’t put every suffering person on the fast track to disability benefits. In fact, in recent years, it has become more difficult than ever to get rapid decisions on Social Security disability claims. The chief reason for this increase is just how many more cases every year Social Security has to make decisions about at all stages of the process, from the initial application through to the final hearing.
Fortunately, if you have a very severe medical condition with a clear diagnosis, you may be eligible for an expedited decision through one of Social Security’s expedited disability benefit programs:
- The Quick Disability Determination program identifies straight-forward and easily-determined disability cases through a sophisticated software program;
- The Compassionate Allowances program is available for many cancers and other severe illnesses that are easily diagnosed and documented with objective medical findings;
- The Terminal Illness program (TERI) is available for those with terminal illnesses or who are in hospice;
- The Presumptive Disability program (for SSI claimants only) gives applicants with certain conditions monthly SSI benefits even before their disability claim is approved or denied.
If you not eligible for an expedited decision through one of the programs described above there are still steps you can take to help make your Social Security disability experience faster on your end. I am going to give you some basic tips, including how to request a quicker decision with a “dire need letter.” I will also overview the new Social Security disability process that helps speed up cases for thousands of claimants and explain how veterans are entitled to a speedier application process and decision:
First, make sure you answer every question on your application and double-check for accuracy. When Social Security reviews it, they will have to reconnect with you for any additional information needed, further delaying the next steps of the process. Be sure to respond as quickly as possible if Social Security does tell you they need more information, even if it’s something you’ve already told them.
Another good time-saver is to make sure that you have submitted to Social Security all of your medical records that are relevant to the case. Stay in contact with your lawyer, if you have one, to be certain that all the medical evidence for your case has been retrieved by either your lawyer or the Social Security office. It is good to check in with your lawyer every couple of months no matter what.
Social Security applicants with the best chance of winning are those that provide opinion evidence from their doctors that describe what illness is causing the disability and how it is preventing the ability to work. You can get this by simply having your doctor write up a report or fill out a residual functional capacity form (RFC).
After applying for disability benefits, call Social Security or your lawyer within a month or two to double-check that nothing was omitted from your application, and then do your best to get the missing information for them, which could make a good impression before the first hearing. If you are at the hearing stage of your claim process, it could very well take a year or two to get an SSDI or SSI hearing. After requesting the hearing, call the hearing office or your disability lawyer to see what you may need to add to your Social Security file to better your evidence and improve your chances at a hearing.
If you are at this level, that probably means you have lost your chance at hearing once or twice. If you don’t already have a disability lawyer by this point, I strongly encourage you to consider hiring one. Improvements will be better made to your Social Security file if you have a professional’s viewpoint.
One way to get a favorable decision made on your claim without waiting for a hearing date is to request an on the record decision (OTR). This can be best used if it is sent by an experienced disability lawyer, especially one who has had success with OTRs before. This would give you a good chance of winning without having to have a hearing. A request for an on the record decision is most effective when it is written in a legal letter brief format which shows good reason for your disability that is supported by medical evidence. You can request an OTR without a lawyer, but writing a strong brief can be difficult for someone with no legal experience.
An OTR may get ignored if a lawyer is known to submit OTRs frequently or if a brief looks unprofessional. Due to the great number of such requests received at the Social Security hearing office and the much smaller number of lawyers and judges there to review them, there is a good chance yours could be passed by. If you have a disability lawyer who does not feel your case is ready for an OTR, you should respect that decision and ask what else can be done to help strengthen your claim.
An OTR is a request for a completely positive decision made without hearing or testimony. Therefore, many cases are not appropriate for such action. You can have a strong case that has good chances of winning at a hearing, but some testimony is often needed to receive a favorable decision. You can still request an on the record decision without losing your case or damaging your chances of getting a hearing, but not many cases are approved at this early level without a hearing.