November 27, 2014

How Long Do I Have To Wait for My Hearing Decision?

Dear Jonathan,
Hello. I have a question concerning my court hearing please.   On May 17th, 2007, I went to my disability hearing. 2 months later I contacted them to find out my status and they told me the decision was made the day I went to court. I continued to wait and still heard nothing. So I called again today, and they told me there was not a decision made yet. Now I am confused, and I have no money and I’m a single parent. My disbility is social anxiety and depression. I really don’t think I can work at this time, but I don’t know what to do. I first applied for this July 2004. I have a lawyer, but she doesn’t know whats going on. Please help.
Thank you, Barbara

Jonathan Ginsberg responds: Barbara, thank you for your question.  Here is what I think is going on.  In most hearing offices throughout the country, judges are required to follow a procedure set out in operations manuals created for them by the Social Security Administration.   Although you would think that a judge can control how his courtroom operates, Social Security judges do not have as much control or authority as State or Federal Court judges.

In a Social Security disability case, the judge takes notes during the course of your hearing and most likely fills out a checklist provided to him.   Included on these checklist forms is a place where the judge selects either "favorable," "unfavorable," or "partially favorable."  After the hearing, the judge gives his checklist and notes to a "decision writer" who will prepare the actual written decision.  The written decisions is Social Security disability cases follow a very structure format.  In other words, hearing decision issued by a judge in hearing office #1 is going to look very similar to a hearing decision issued by a judge in hearing office #2.

In many hearing offices, decision writers are overworked and have backlogs of work.   Because of this, there may be a delay of several weeks to several months before the decision writer is able to produce a draft decision for the judge’s review.   The judge may then review the written decision and compare its text to his notes and checklist forms.  Most judges want to do a good job and they want their written decisions to make sense and to clearly explain their reasoning.

If your case has unusual issues or if the judge needs to hold the record open for evidence or a written brief, the process may take several months.  Some judges may also be very particular about any written decision that goes out under that judge’s signature and that can add weeks or months to the delay.

I know a couple of judges who may take a year or longer to issue a decision, although that is unusual.  Most hearing decisions are issued within two to three months after the hearing.

In your case, I suspect that the judge did make his decision at the time of your hearing, and that the written hearing decision has been prepared in draft form but has not been reviewed by the judge.  

Unfortunately there is not much you can do to force the judge to speed up the process.  If the delay goes on beyond five or six months, your lawyer may want to write a polite letter asking about status and advising the judge that you have a finanical hardship and need a decision. 

[tags] social security disability hearing decision, social security judge, ODAR [/tags]

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Jonathan Ginsberg represents Social Security disability claimants in Georgia. In practice for over 23 years, Jonathan publishes a widely known disability blog, a podcast and several disability web sites. In 2004, Jonathan published a "how to" book about Social Security disability called the Disability Answer Guide. Jonathan lives with his wife and 2 children in Atlanta.