November 26, 2014

What Is The Timeline For My Social Security Disability Claim?

Many claimants wonder what the timeline looks like for a Social Security disability claim from start to finish.  The waiting time for a claim can depend on many factors and can vary greatly from case to case.

Step 1: Initial Application

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In my experience, the average waiting time for a decision on the initial application is about 4 months, but this is only an estimate.

This wait time can depend on multiple things.  One factor is how quickly your medical providers respond to the Social Security Administration (SSA)’s requests for medical records.  The SSA will request any relevant medical records from the medical providers you listed on your initial application.  In my experience, the turnaround time for medical records can range from one week to a few months.  Another factor that impacts the waiting time at this stage is how long it takes the SSA to obtain additional information it needs about your disabling conditions.  This additional information can come in the form of consultative exams (one-time assessments by doctors who examine you on the SSA’s behalf) or questionnaires about your work history and your activities of daily living.  Finally, the wait time can be longer or shorter based on the SSA’s current workload.

Step 2: Request for Reconsideration

In my experience, claimants wait approximately 3 months for a decision on a request for reconsideration, but this is only an estimate.

The waiting time at this step has the greatest variation among my clients.  Some clients receive a decision within a few weeks, especially if they have not received any additional medical treatment since they completed their initial application.  Others wait months as their adjudicators work to obtain additional information, especially if the claimants have experienced big changes in their disabling conditions since completing the initial application.  Usually this step simply entails a medical records update and a file review by a different group of medical experts, but sometimes the SSA will send additional questionnaires or order more consultative exams or testing.  Again, the waiting time at this step is often heavily influenced by the SSA’s current workload.

Step 3: Request for a Hearing

My Indiana clients have been experiencing about a 12-month wait for a hearing once the request for hearing is filed; unfortunately this waiting time seems to be getting longer due to Social Security’s greater workloads.  This is only an estimate based on my experience; different hearing offices have different waiting times.

This step is by far the longest wait in most cases.  Many of my clients get frustrated because it seems that nothing is being done on their cases during the months leading up to the hearing, and to some extent that is true.  Once the request for a hearing is filed, the staff at the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) prepares the file for the hearing and assigns the case to an administrative law judge (ALJ).  After that, we spend most of the time simply waiting for our case to be scheduled on the ALJ’s calendar.   In my experience, this wait time is only getting longer.  Ever since the 2013 government shutdown and resulting SSA personnel cuts, it seems the wait time is increasing.

Step 4: Hearing Decision

The ALJ will typically tell you to expect to wait 30 to 90 days for a written decision after your hearing.

This waiting time may depend on how much additional information the ALJ needs to obtain after the hearing.  Some judges may send a claimant for additional consultative exams and/or ask the claimant’s attorney to request additional medical records.  It is not uncommon for the judge to postpone making a decision for 15 to 30 days to gather additional evidence.  They call this “holding the record open,” because the ALJ is waiting for additional evidence before declaring that the record is complete enough to make a well-informed decision.  The ALJs do not have a specific deadline by which they must complete their decision-writing in a case.  Although most ALJs issue their decisions in as timely a manner as possible, I have sometimes received decisions several months after the hearing was held.  In these cases, we have no recourse but to wait as patiently as we can until the ALJ issues a decision.

These estimates come from my experience in my Indiana Social Security disability law practice.  it is important to remember that waiting times vary from case to case and from state to state.

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