How long does Social Security process take?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions of a Social Security attorney and one of the biggest complaints filed with the Social Security Administration. The Social Security Administration has worked very diligently over the past several years and have reduced the waiting times substantially. Although we have all heard the horror stories of Social Security cases taking many years to adjudicate, during fiscal year 2010, the average processing time to get a case from the filing of the Request for Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge to a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge was 426 days. This number does vary depending on your particular Office of Disability Adjudication and Review. For example, in May 2011, Montgomery, AL took 397 days to get a case to a hearing before a judge once the appeal was filed, Mobile, AL took 416 days, and Birmingham took 436 days. These statistics are for regular Social Security claims for benefits and do not include cases that are classified as Compassionate Allowance or TERI. The Social Security Administration has issued multiple statements as to their commitment to continue to reduce waiting times.

We all know that Social Security is a federal program, and as such, the process should be the same no matter where you are in the country. However, wait times vary depending on where you are. Administrative Law Judges are assigned to a particular ODAR and the number of Administrative Law Judges at each ODAR is dependent on the number of cases filed and/or pending at that particular office. The amount of staff at each ODAR is directly related to the number of judges assigned to that particular office. Therefore, the number of judges or the number of staff members at a particular office should not dictate the amount of time it takes for a case to be adjudicated. The theory is that the waiting time at an ODAR is based primarily on organizational skills and the efficiency of both the staff and the judges. Unfortunately for a person seeking Social Security benefits, you do not get to decide which ODAR you use and you probably are not aware of the current wait times.

The only way to know for sure what the current average wait time is for your local ODAR is to ask a local Social Security attorney who deals with your particular ODAR on a regular basis. Anyone can read the published statistics of a particular office; but only a local, experienced Social Security attorney can know exactly how long cases are taking at a particular office.

Once a hearing is held, a decision will be issued. Although Social Security strives to get the written decision out within 30 days, the amount of time it takes to receive the decision is dependent on the Administrative Law Judge, the decision writers, and other factors. The Sellers Law Firm typically tells their clients to not be surprised if it takes 60-90 days to receive a final decision, depending on your ODAR, the judge to whom your case is assigned, and whether any post-hearing development is warranted.

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