If you’re waiting for your Social Security disability hearing, that means you’ve already waited the 3-5 months for the Social Security Administration (SSA) to deny your initial application and another 2-4 months for the SSA to deny your appeal. How much longer will you have to wait?
According to the SSA’s monthly statistics, Indianapolis residents had to wait an average of 19 months for a hearing. That means that you could wait two years from the moment you file your initial application to the moment you stand before an administrative law judge.
Why Does This Process Take So Long?
The SSA is Shrinking
“Most Social Security offices are understaffed and overworked.” That’s what I wrote in 2010 when we published Eight Mistakes To Avoid When Filing For Social Security Disability Benefits, and the same is true today. Since 2010, the SSA’s core operating budget has been cut by 10 percent, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). This decrease in funding comes at a time when more and more baby boomers are aging out of the workforce and requiring help from the SSA at record highs.
Multiple hiring freezes since 2010, including one in the spring of 2016 that continues to this day, have left the SSA with a shrinking staff. Overtime has been eliminated, as well as 1,400 field officers.
The Back Log is Growing
Waiting has always been part of the Social Security disability process—it just didn’t take this long. In 2010, there were about 700,000 pending disability hearings. The average wait for a hearing was about nine months to a year. As of December 2016, there were about 1.1 million cases pending—a nearly 60 percent increase in just six years. Wait times for a hearing have doubled to 18 months on average, according to the CBPP.
The SSA has begun to reverse the trend and has successfully reduced the number of pending cases in both January and February of 2017, but wait times remain high.
What Can I Do While I Wait?
The SSA’s lack of staffing and funding have been developing for years and aren’t likely to be fixed with immediate effect on your case. What’s important is making sure that you do everything you can to protect your claim while you wait for your hearing.
Keep Your Medical Appointments
It’s important to treat with your doctor(s) in order to show that your disability isn’t short-term. Your doctor(s) will be able to verify that your condition is long-term or permanent. On the other hand, your prognosis may improve, and your doctor(s) may let you know you’re cleared to work again. Either way, it’s difficult for the SSA to know whether or not you’re suffering from a permanent or long-term disability if you miss appointments or don’t take your medications.
Alert Your Attorney of Any Changes
You need to keep your attorney in the loop while he or she prepares to take your case in front of the administrative law judge. Call your attorney’s office if you have any changes in your:
- Employment status
- Phone number
It’s a long wait from initial application to approval, but if you’re in need of Social Security disability benefits, it’ll be worth the wait. Listen to your doctors, keep your attorney up-to-date on your condition and contact information, and you’ll be prepared for when you finally have your hearing.