September 22, 2014

I Have to Wait How Long for my Hearing Decision?

Back in August, 2007, I wrote a blog post entitled “How Long Do I Have to Wait for my Hearing Decision.”   Back then I reported that in most cases, a claimant would have to wait two to three months for a hearing decision.

Fast forward to 2009.  That two to three month period is now four to six months.  Here’s why:  about 18 months ago, the Social Security Administration convinced Congress to allocate more money to hire new administrative law judges, and SSA immediately hired around 100 new judges.  At the same time, Social Security put into process its conversion from paper files to electronic files and they created the infrastructure to provide for video hearings.

In Atlanta, where I practice, SSA created a video hearing ODAR office in Marietta, Georgia with three hearing rooms available to handle video hearings.

The good news – Social Security is now equipped to offer claimants administrative hearings.  The bad news:  the hearing offices often do not have enough support staff to process all of the decisions being issued by new judges and judges appearing by video.

As I noted back in 2007, the judges themselves do not actually write the decisions – that task is assigned to “decision writers” – individuals who may be staff lawyers or paralegals who are not in attendance at the hearings but who prepare the decisions for the judges’ review.

Even though the decision writers follow a standard hearing template, the decision has to be written, proofread and sent to the judge for review.  Since the judge may not see a decision for weeks or months after the hearing, he most likely will not remember the case, meaning that he will have to review the file and verify that the decision reflects his thoughts.

Because of the volume, I am seeing delays of four to six months between the hearing dates and the issuance of a decision.

This delay can be especially frustrating for claimants who are expecting favorable decisions.  In some cases, judges announce at the hearing that they plan to approve a particular case.   The claimant leaves the hearing office happy, knowing that a big lump sum check is headed his way along with monthly benefits and access to Medicare.  Imagine how frustrated that claimant will become when there is a six month wait in the issuance of a decision.

Unfortunately there is just not a whole lot anyone can do about these growing delays.   As an advocate for my clients, the last thing I want to do is anger a judge by demanding that my cases be moved to the front of the line.   Social Security judges work hard and they know that there is a decision processing problem.   Complaining by a lawyer or a claimant is not going to help.   And since the judge has the power to change his mind, I am not a big fan of demanding action by calling your Congressperson.

While frustration and anger is understandable, there is no remedy unless and until Social Security hires more staff to support its expanded judicial corps.

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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.

Comments

  1. Mark Fincannon says:

    I have been waiting for a trial in the Atlanta office now since Sept. of 2007. My attorney, Kevin Hall of Atlanta, who will be calling July 8, 2009 just to update, still doesn’t have a date set for the trial.

    Having been on disability now for nearly 4 years due to my career choice (sanding & refinishing hardwood floors), I am homeless and totally dependent on family members to survive. I have contacted every House of Representative and Senator in the State of North Carolina, including the Governor, with no response. I have also contacted the Vice President and President…no response. After working all of my life and faithfully paying SS taxes…this is where you end up. Depending on your family and other Americans…please- don’t depend on Social Security folks :(

  2. Mary Seroski says:

    I had to wait 18 months for my hearing which I understand is not so long. I could have it sooner if I was willing to have a video judge but being severely hard of hearing, I needed a live body there to read lips and such.

    I had an awesome lawyer (I’m in Idaho) too. After the hearing my lawyer was confident I had won. But to hear you say it could be up to six months rather that six weeks before I hear anything is a real bummer. I’m hoping my lawyer’s estimate is right and it will be only about four to six weeks. Crossing my fingers!!!!

    Mary aka GG

  3. Kelly Sinquefield says:

    Hello, thank-you for having such and informative web-site. I applied for disability in Oct. 2006 I went for my hearing June 12th 2009 and received an approval letter 12 days later.My disability date was amended to April 1st 2007. My disability is severe back problems, had spinal fusion in 2007 and diagnosed with bi-polar which the judge said was not a big enough factor to receive disability but recommends having a person assigned to receive my check every month.
    How long does it usually take to get a check?
    Do you get cost of living raises on disability?

  4. Mark Fincannon says:

    Well, the attorney called on the 8th of July, just like he said he would. Still saying that the Charleston office is way behind schedule and that he doesn’t have any date whatsoever for my trial…it’s been so long, the attorney can’t even remember my doctor’s diagnosis b/c he’s asking me what’s wrong with my lungs and why the doctor needs to put me in the hospital??? Doctor can’t put me in the hospital b/c I have no insurance, can’t get medicaid b/c I have a claim in for SSI benefits. And no response back from any of the elected officials from the great state of North Carolina or the VP/Pres., not that I expected it.

  5. jeff trimble says:

    i had my hearing in oct.of 09 i wanna know that the judge asked the voc rehab person.if this person could do his past work he said all but one.the last question the judge asked the voc rehab person is that could this person work 40 hrs a week 5 days a week.voc rehab said no.what does this mean the judge didn’t rule a decision that day.does that mean my case will be favorable.

  6. Rhonda Kay says:

    To Jeff Trimble. I had the same experience as you. Did you have your hearing in Colorado Springs? I had a female judge that seemed ice cold. She ask the voc. rehab guy those same questions about me. At first, she ask him if “I could work such and such jobs.” He said “Yes.” The last question she ask him was “could I work if I took about 3 or 4 days of sick leave a month.” He said “no” (because I’d get fired.)I left there pretty aggravated because I wasn’t told if I was getting approved or not.

  7. Chloe Harris says:

    I had my hearing November 2009 waiting not even a year from my last denial from SS, it has now been 2 years 8 months since I first applied and I am waiting for a decision in the mail unpatiently form the judge :). The judge asks 5 questions about being able to do a certain job to the vacational rehab specialist, like Rhonda and Jeff the judge was also told this by my vacation rehab specialist, as far as I know it is normal, or I’m going on what my lawyer has told me. They put out “hypothetical” theories about what you would and would not be able to handle and I was also one of those “I would get fired, having to take 6 unsced. breaks and missing 2 days of work”, it would cause me to get fired – before that the run pretty much for being able to do everything to not being able to do anything at all. My hearing made me an emotional mess. The judge also told me that I would receive his decision quickly. I have yet to receive the decision which my mother knows he had his decision the minute we walked out the door. Good Luck to everyone and I hope I helped :)

  8. Melissa Renee Genery says:

    I applied for SSD benefits in 05/08. My hearing before the ALJ was 10/09. I called the adjudication board and they told me that the judge had made his decision, but couldn’t tell me what the decision was and that my case had now been turned over to an underwriter. What happens from there and how much longer will it take before I hear something?

  9. Mary Harris says:

    I had my hearing on November 10,2009 after waiting for two years for this hearing. The judge also asked the VE questions regarding me being able to do my past work. And was told I wasn’t able to do my past work and that what I did was skilled work. Then the VE stated after questioned by the judge that I could work in a restaurant as the cashier. I didn’t understand where he got this job from. I don’t know if I will be approved I am 60 yrs old and have worked my entire adult life with no down time. Now I am waiting for the hearing decision. I was told by my atty it would take 3 weeks to 3 months. But at this time do you think that I should contact the ssa office to find out the status of my hearing decision. Its very stressful waiting and not knowing. Its been such a long time I first applied in January 2006. Can you give me advise on what I should do at this time

  10. G.jeskie says:

    @Melissa Renee Genery: I was told the same thing Melissa, Mine turned out to be approved. hope yours does the same.

  11. Tim walkins says:

    @Mark Fincannon: I hate when people say the poor judge has slot of work and to just wait we have all been waiting my wait has taken everything from me my home my car my credit so I am all of of time to just wait I know if it was them they would be upset and pace around waiting to here somthing each day I was approved like 6 weeks ago after 3 years of waiting and was told it would be 4 to 8weeks and that the hard part was done the way I see it I’m still waiting LOL it’s still hard to wait no matter where u are in the process I’m like a month away from living in a trailer boy will that be fun they will have taken even the basics of life from me at that point but all I can do is wait but atleast I have company

  12. lesia martin says:

    I first applied for SSI benefits after being taken off my job in 2007. I had a knee injury as well as a back injury. I had surgery in 2008 for my knee and am still not able to walk or stand for a long period of time. I got a denial letter just a few months after applying for the first time. I appealed that denial and asked for a hearing. I had my hearing February 2010. My Attourney did not even have all my records. The judge gave me additional time to retrieve more records and i did so. It is now 8 months since i have been waiting for a decision. I don’t know what to do and to top things off my workers comp case is ready to settle.

  13. aggravated says:

    I applied for social security in Sept 2007 I just had my hearing Feb 15th 2010 I still have not hears a decision. The hypothetical questions to the Vocational rehab specialist, and the Medical doctor/physiologist all came back to a final of not being able to work. Almost 4 months later. I have been homeless moving from place to place Since June of 2007 and am unable to work. I have almost no income and can’t even get into subsidized housing because I do not have income. what do they expect people to do? I know There are so many people in my position. How does the government expect people to get better and hopefully be able to work again in the future so they don’t have to rely on the gov. Benefits if there is so little help for people? aggravated.

  14. madison best says:

    I just had a hearing yesterday that seemed to go well. i think it went in my favor but its hard to tell. but the judge did say i fall into the time period, 16 months sick. the doctor at the hearing said i was not sick enough fron the disease to get disability, but i did fall under the symptoms and would have been as ill as i said i was. i am well now and was told that i can’t receive ongoing disability, but i can for the time i was disabled. my questions are, how long for a decision and does it sound like i won the case?

  15. Madison, written decisions can take any where from 3 weeks to 3 months. It depends on your judge’s workload. It sounds like your case is a “closed period” case – without being there, however, I can’t really offer an opinion about your chances of success. However, I wish you the best of luck.

  16. I had my hearing on 6/6 and within 3 days my lawyer called to say the judge sent his decision to his writers, is his quick decision a good sign? Also, in the first 3 hypothetical s the VE listed jobs that I could perform, once my lawyer added further limitations that were listed in letters from my specialists the VE responded by says in those cases there would be no jobs and or not competitive. The judge added a 5th hypothetical and again the VE said no jobs, how does the judge decided between all of these conflicting hypothetical. Is my scenario positive? Thank you

  17. Hello,
    Just wondering if there is any truth behind the length of time taken in making decision by alj and the outcome of decision itself. ie The longer the judge takes on making decision the less likely it will be in your favor. Has anyone else heard that rumor?? It has been 10 weeks since I saw the alj and I am thinking if it was favorable surely I would have heard something by now? my atty says I just need to wait even though he thinks it went well. Dont they all tell that to their clients? This is a complete nightmare.

  18. @Yvette – I do not think that there is any truth to this rumor. Generally the decisions – both favorable and unfavorable – are prepared by staff writers based on the judge’s notes. After the decision is drafted, the judge must review for accuracy. Since the same process applies for both favorable and unfavorable decisions, I do not think that a long delay means anything other than that the judge’s office is backed up.

  19. Thank You!

  20. Hello, I have a second hearing before the same judge that denied me soon. My case was over turned from federal level. Then was sent back to the appeal council, and sent back to the judge that denied me. So the judge can review my new VA rating. When I apply for SSA Disability in 2007, I was 90% disable thought the VA. SSA only had me rated at 10% disable thought the VA for some reason. I was denied SSA in 2008 by the judge, and award 100% from the VA for PTSD and Back pain the same year. Do you think I have some good weight on my case. Thanks for your time

  21. I had my hearing 7/11. 2 days later my atty called saying the judge wanted to know if i would except that my disability started from7/o9 instead of 9/06 when i stopped working ( is this normal?) does that sound like they are ruling in my favor? its been 3 weeks & no letter stating for or against. During atty call to me said should have the judges ruling in 7-10 days…this waiting is crazy as you all well know.

  22. Hi, it’s been almost 2yrs and I had my hearing with ALJ judge and a VE. Long story short, judge said I passed the medical but ssa was going to re-review my income. I’m self employed and still trying to work a little so we dont lose our home. The VE said there were no jobs for me. It’s been 7 weeks and still haven’t heard anything. Any opinions if it’s yesor no

  23. i applied for ssdi 8 /2008 in finally made it too hearing judge told me id hearhis ruling in 12 days then out in 3 days i got a letter saying i need a ce exam is this a bad thing should i be worried im going to be denied ty john

  24. My lawyer saw my alj judge prior to me going in and he told him he would find me disabled from January 2009 even though I have been out since May 2005. When I went in, he asked me a few questions then asked the vocab specialist if I could do any work that I have done and she said no. I still havent heard anything. I am wondering if a judge tells your lawyer that he is going to find you disabled, does he usually keep to what he said? Or could your answers in the hearing change his mind?

  25. Kim, given the circumstances you describe, I think it is extremely unlikely that the judge would change his mind.

  26. I went in front of an ALJ in September (2011) in Atlanta, GA & am still waiting on a decision. My attorney called today to find out the status & they said that it is in “unassigned writing” status which apparently means on its way to a decision writer. Does this mean that the ALJ has already made a decision? How long does it normally take to go from unassigned writing to a decision writer? And how long does it take to get a response in the mail from this point?

  27. donna kay linthicum says:

    could u please tell me what day my hearing decision was approved?

  28. Amy, usually decisions are issued within 1 to 3 months. If the judge is backed up it can take longer. Unfortunately there is not much you or your lawyer can to do speed up the process.

  29. I had my SSDI Hearing on November 11th 2011 my hearing lasted 10 mins, the vocational expert in the Hearing didn’t say a word or was asked any questions, the judge only asked me one question and asked what is the doctors prognosis I said that the doctor told me that I am permantly disabled, then the Judge tells me that he will issue a decision in 30 days, I went to my hearing in my prescribed wheelchair with my mother pushing me in and she sat their for moral support, after the hearing my lawyer tells me to wait for him outside, 2 mins later he came out and told me that the Judge approved under review of one to two years for me to see one of ssa’s doctors to get a update on my condtions. I this a good outcome why didn’t the Judge approve me when I was in the hearing with him why do it when I step out of the courtroom?

  30. My son who is 8 was denied twice from social security. He just had his hearing Nov.29 and It went really well. The judge was very friendly and funny. He said I was very Articular. I’ve been fighting social security since 09′ and when we went to the hearing the lawyer provided new info my son was just diagnosed with Autisum. The judge said he needed to questionnaires from the psyc. nd a teacher questionnaire and report card and he give us two weeks to provide it he said once he received it he will take it from there. My son lawyer submitted the stuff the judge was asking Thursday morning dec 8. How long do u think my son will wait for a decision and the judge also mention that he does see that my son has some problems how good does this look for my son.

  31. January 2008 says:

    Is it ok to still work very part time? Income is below sga $and apply for ssdi?

  32. I think that you are not right at all. Those judges don’t work hard on a case to review everything. They work hard to find loop holes to get the person no money. My husband filed in 2007 from a neck injury at work. He got a settlement from BWC and filed for disability because the fusion of the new bones in his neck didn’t set right and he had to have two surgeries have it fixed. Since that time, the strain has caused severe depression, he has had 3 heart attacks and shoulder surgery. He looks like he is 60 and he is only 48. The Adjunct said, and I quote, “I find his case to be too extreme to be believed.” He had his shrink, 40 years experience, dismissed. He had his physical doc dismissed and his heart doctor dismissed because he said, and I quote again, “They were being sympathetic to his case.” We have been waiting for the appeals council to render a decision because the judge denied his disability. We got our senator involved and they were able to get it remanded back to SSIDA. This judge in my husbands case, took the word of an SSID doctor that my husband saw for 10 minutes, who didn’t do any scans or and MRI. He is on so many medications that I can’t count on one hand. Then to top all that off, the state of Ohio denied him insurance because they made a mistake and have him receiving disability through Franklin Co. Job and Family Services. Well, if that is the case, where is the money? and why was that case allowed since 2005 before my husband filed for SSID? Yet these people who don’t deserve it or who have never had a surgery or are just lazy, get it on the first try. I personally know one guy, 45 years old, who got it the first time because he suffered from anxiety. He gets $49,000.00 a year and he got an initial check for $80,000.00. Explain that? You support these judges, you have no idea what they do. You have no idea how they ruin people’s lives. My car was repossessed, we are in foreclosure and I am the only one working for $3.40 and hour plus tips. You need to get a clue.

  33. did you ever get a decision????@lesia martin:

  34. @aggravated: have u called ss? a year later and no decision ? u need to call them

  35. @Cathy: I totally fee your pain!!! My husband is Grand Mal epileptic,has 2 cracked vertebrea in is neck,From t4 thru t8 are crushed with t9 and t10 degenerative bone and disc desease,uncontrolled diabetes insulin dependent,illiostomy,major depression,neuropothy,and going blind. And try and get him insurance!!! But he just doesn’t seem to be sick enough for disability. Hmmm But the guy down the street has it and owns a tree service business, with snowplowing and seal coating and yes he works with all of the physically. The system is surely messed up!!!! And he too, takes 2 fists full of meds 3 times a day!!

  36. My sister was diagnosed with MS, spondolythesis, and arachnoiditis. She applied for Social Security and was immediately approved with her first application. She got her first check within 3 months from filing. She did not get her Medicare for over a year.

    I, on the other hand, filed and was denied, and had to go through the appeals process and go in front of a judge. It took nearly 4 years to get in front of that judge, and during that time I had to sell everything I had that was worth anything in order to try and feed myself and my kids. I lost my furniture, my jewelry, my car, my lawnmower, everything… finally I lost my home and had to live in my mother’s basement for nearly a year and a half (how embarrassing.) After the court hearing it took a little over 3 months to start receiving benefits.

    I think a lot of it depends on your doctors, your diagnosis, and your mental condition/abilities. Some of it depends on what jerk you get reveiwing your application in the first place.

  37. Donna, you need to ask your lawyer – hearing decisions are not public record.

  38. Hello I had my hearing on September 18, 2012 could not get decision due to the fact I worked in the year I applied so the judge needed my wage computation and letters regarding my attendance from jobs. I have been sick since October 2010, however tried to work to keep my rent and bills paid. Now my file is with the attorney for underwriting. When I called they said the judge made his decision and that now it’s at the attorney fpr underwriting. Can you tell me what that means.

  39. It means that a Social Security employee is drafting a written decision for the judge to review and send out. Generally judges set out how they intend to decide and the writer drafts a complete written decision for the judge to approve.

  40. I have been waiting since April 2011 so almost 2 years now. My family is practically homeless now because I can't get benfits that I know I will get. Its sad that so many people have to go through this.

  41. hello i called the ss office and its been 2 weeks since my hearing and they made there decison and its been mailed is that a good sign ? the voc ex  said if someone with my stuff cant work a full time job .is that a good sign .

  42. i was denied cause the judge thinks im lying i guess im not really happy with him i hope one day he needs help and dont get it when he needs it …. i am disabled and can even hardly go out and walk but he thinks i can work 40 plus a week smh hes stupid

  43. blueeyes says:

    I applied for disability in march of 2005 and was denied I had a lawyer and appealed it and went to court in march of 2013 and was approved on the spot waiting approvel letter its been almost 60 days and still noithing my friend went to court and 3 weeks later he had his approvel letter what seems to be going on with it

  44. I was wondering if anyone could answer a question. I see a lot of posts where people went to hearings and no decision was made that day, rather the decision would be mailed to them. How many of you got approval letters. I went to court last week and seemed to have had a nice judge and I did have a very good lawyer. But the judge said I would receive his decision in the mail. My friend said everyone she knows on SSI got an approval right there at the hearing. So, I am now wondering if this means I will be denied. Any thoughts? I have been trying since 2008 to get approved.

  45. Sherry, the official procedure at SSA now is for judges not to announce their decisions. As you will recall, there are no baliffs or other security present at hearings so SSA believes it is safer for all parties if judges do not announce what they are going to do. Nevertheless, a few judges do still announce, but most do not. I would not read anything into the fact that your judge did not announce his decision.

  46. I had a hearing July 17, the vocational expert said there is no jobs I can work. The judge said he didn’t get my medical records from my doctor yet. Soon as he gets it, he will send me a copy and make his decision. So he received it, I got a letter with the copies of my medical record. The letter said if I don’t contact him within 10 days for a supplement hearing, he is going to make his decision. Should I think its a good chance I got approve, because why would I need a supplement hearing if I didn’t get approve yet

  47. Supplemental hearing I meant

  48. The same thing here Sherry I want to court Jun 24 I was nervous because he haven’t told me his decision, My lawyer said some judges will let you know on the spot most of them wouldn’t. so ask my lawyer do he think my case is going to be denied because they have to mail me my decision he said no that’s not the case it have to be review by the judge again and the SSi System to determine my case all I could say I’m very nervous now waiting for my decision….. if my case is denied im going to appeal it……

  49. brandytess says:

    I had my hearing on June 21, 2013. Still waiting on decision. My attorney told me it was in “decision writing”, anyone know how long that takes?

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