Why Does It Take So Long To Get a Disability Hearing?

October 30, 2015 | By Riddle & Brantley Accident Injury Lawyers
Why Does It Take So Long To Get a Disability Hearing?

It takes a long time to get a hearing when seeking disability from the Social Security Administration (SSA). But why?

In this article, our North Carolina disability lawyers will attempt to answer your questions regarding wait times for disability hearings, as well as how we can help move your case forward.

Wait Times for Disability Hearings

Why Does It Take So Long to Get a Disability Hearing - Riddle & Brantley

Many of our Social Security Disability clients face a long and difficult road to receiving the benefits they have paid for and are entitled to because they have to have their cases decided by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) if their applications are initially denied. Wait times for ALJ hearings average around 8 months — and that is after the 4-6 months it typically takes for a case to be reviewed but denied at the first two levels within the system.

Why does it take so long to get in front of a judge for a disability hearing?

In a nutshell, there are too many claims on the waiting list for hearings, and not enough ALJ’s to hear them. The SSA employs over 1,500 ALJs, and they issue about 650,000 decision every year. Doing the math, that means that, on average, each judge must make over 400 decisions per year!

By and large, the ALJs (disability judges) are hardworking people who pull their weight, but by any measure they are overburdened.

"Why Doesn’t the SSA Hire More Disability Judges?"

So, the obvious question is, “Why not hire more judges?”

The simple answer is that the Social Security Administration (SSA) has not been granted adequate funding for judges by Congress for many, many years. By one estimate, the SSA’s funding was over $4 billion short just between years 2000 and 2007, and it hasn’t gotten much better since then (in some better news, the Disability Insurance Trust Fund — which actually pays for disability benefits — is doing quite well, relatively speaking).

From 2008 to 2010, Congress significantly increased SSA’s funding, and the results were good.  SSA hired thousands of new employees (including ALJs and support staff), and the backlog of cases decreased along with average wait times to hearings. The increased funding was short-lived however, and after 2010, the backlog and wait times started edging back up. The current SSA caseload has since been brought down to around the 750,000 mark, but that still leaves a tremendous backlog, hence the delays in hearings.

ALJ Caseloads

Each judge has to average about three decisions per day just to keep from falling further behind. Furthermore, ALJs are not allowed to issue more than 720 decisions per year, a limit that was enacted to counter what was perceived as a tendency by certain “outlier” judges to just rubber-stamp awards of benefits without them being supported by medical evidence. The more closely cases are examined by ALJs and their staffs, the longer decisions take.

Attrition also makes thing worse. Approximately 125 judges retire (or die) every year, so at least that many new judges need to be hired just to keep pace with this attrition, without taking into account the need for more total judges to handle the increased backlog. SSA has not been able to keep up with this demand for new ALJs. So, fewer and fewer total judges are producing fewer decisions results in more and more cases in the backlog and longer wait times for hearings.

“How Can I Speed Up My Disability Claim?”

Many of our clients ask us what they can do to speed up the process of getting their case heard by a judge. Sadly, and to our great frustration, the answer is usually “nothing.”


There are some developments in your situation that can result in your hearing date being scheduled sooner than average:

  • If your doctor says that your illness is likely to result in imminent death
  • If you are without and unable to obtain food, medicine or shelter
  • If you are suicidal
  • If you are a “wounded warrior” injured while on active military duty since 10/01/01 with a 100% VA rating
Can I Speed Up the Disability Appeal Process - Riddle & Brantley

In these cases, we may (at the ALJ’s discretion) be able to get your case heard more quickly. But, unless you fall into one of those categories, you will likely have to wait at least six to eight months for a hearing.

Contacting Your Senator or Congressman for Your Disability Case

Our only other standard advice to our clients is to contact their United States Senator or Representative’s office.

Sometimes a letter from that representative’s ombudsman (a government official appointed to report and receive grievances against the government) to the SSA can result in attention being paid to the case, but that is far from a guarantee. The unfortunate, frustrating truth of the situation is that those seeking disability often have to hold on financially, by whatever means they can, until their day in court before a judge.

“When Will I Get a Decision in My Disability Hearing?”

As a final frustration in this process, once you DO have your hearing with an ALJ, in most cases you will not be informed of the judge’s decision that day. Most judges will tell you that they want to review the evidence in light of the testimony they hear and then render a written decision. It is, on average, six to eight weeks after the hearing before the decision is mailed to you in writing.

Need Help with Your Disability Claim?

Since 1985, our North Carolina disability attorneys have helped thousands of North Carolinians seeking disability benefits.

"To those people who are trying to get their disability, I hope they will look to Riddle & Brantley for help."

-B. Fields, Riddle & Brantley client

North Carolina Disability Lawyers - Riddle & Brantley

For a FREE, no-obligation consultation with an experienced North Carolina disability lawyer, please call 1-800-525-7111.

There is no cost for the consultation, there are no upfront costs, and you won’t pay a dime in attorney fees unless we win your case and you receive the Social Security disability benefits you need and deserve.

Call 1-800-525-7111 and let’s review your disability claim. No disability attorney can do much to speed up the processing of your claim, but we can do everything within our power to get you the best possible outcome.

Justice Counts.