Social Security disability has a big problem in Atlanta. SSA reports that as of December, 2016 SSDI and SSI applicants must wait 17 months or longer for the opportunity to present their case to an administrative law judge. This is 17 months from the date a hearing is requested. The initial and reconsideration appeal typically take about a year.
On average, therefore, if you live in Atlanta and decide to file for Social Security disability, you will end up waiting about 30 months (that’s 2 ½ years) from the date you file your application until the date your case comes up for a hearing.
Then you may wait another 2 to 6 months for a decision. Yes, this means you could end up waiting 3 years from the time you apply to the date you get a decision from the judge.
In January, 2017 President Trump has announced a federal civilian employee hiring freeze. This means that no new judges will be added, nor will Social Security staff numbers increase. At least for the time being, this will mean a further increase in claim processing delays.
My experience has been consistent with the official stats from SSA – most of the cases I try were started about 2 to 2 ½ years previously.
Needless to say, waiting 2 or more years for a hearing will cause you hardship. Hopefully you have savings to sustain yourself, or family or friends who can help you out with basic necessities like food and shelter.
This is why I advise all my clients to try to work within their medical capabilities. My experience has been that unsuccessful work attempts of less than 3 months can help your disability claim by showing the judge that you are fighting the idea of disability.
You can also pursue a closed period of disability if you medical condition keeps you out of work for at least 12 consecutive months.
- Click here to read more about work attempts after applying and agreeing to a “closed period” of disability
You have to be careful about work attempts longer than 3 months can damage your disability claim, and if your work record.
What We Can Do About the Long Delays
We do have a few options to address the long delays. If you have a serious ailment and strong doctor support, we can try to get you approved at the initial application or reconsideration appeal. State Agency adjudicators send out requests for medical records but they don’t have time to do much followup and you will find that most administrative decisions are made without all relevant records in your file.
If I get the case in time and the facts of the case support an approval based on a listing, then we can sometimes short circuit the long delays by demonstrating to the adjudicator that the evidence does support an approval.
Assuming we have to pursue an administrative law judge hearing, we can sometimes get an on-the-record decision shortly after filing a hearing request by submitting a pre-hearing brief to the chief judge or to an attorney adviser. Again, the evidence needs to be compelling but I have found that judges and attorney advisers are open to on-the-record decisions if the medical evidence – including physician assessments we have submitted – show a clear case for approval.
If you are a disabled veteran, your hearing request will be put at the front of the line, and I have also seen cases where claimants contacted their elected representatives to ask for help getting an early hearing date.
In cases where a claimant is about to lose a house, or is homeless, we can submit a “dire need” letter to request an expedited hearing. My experience, however, has been that Social Security hearing offices receive numerous dire need requests so we would need evidence that your situation is, in fact, quite dire.
No Relief in Sight
Every year the Commissioner of Social Security submits to Congress a report that includes plans to reduce the backlog. The Atlanta hearing backlog is one of the worst in the country, but every hearing office has this problem. Social Security is such a big organization that any change in procedure would likely take years to have any effect, and, of course, the delay problem is partially a result of the number of applicants which changes year to year.
My guess is that we will continue to experience long hearing backlogs for years to come so our goal remains to thoroughly and completely develop our cases so that when we do get the hearing notice, we will be fully prepared.