The answer? Backlog. Not in our office, but in hearing offices across the country that are inundated with claimants appealing denials and requesting hearings.
The SSA web site, ssa.gov, publishes a report, updated monthly, on the length of time it takes Offices of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODARs) to schedule a hearing from the time they receive the request. As of October 2015, the shortest wait time was reported by Fort Smith, Ark., (7.5 months). The longest: Columbia, S.C., at 21 months. Local wait times in months (as of October 2015) are as follows: Chicago, 15.5; Grand Rapids, 13; Oak Brook, 16; Orland Park, 14; and Valparaiso, 16.
Add to this the fact that in most states (including Indiana and Illinois), claimants are denied twice before requesting a hearing, and that means many claimants wait two years from the date of their disability application until the time of their hearing.
The wait is frustrating, especially when people are facing serious health and financial issues. Two years is a long time to go without income. Many people, incorrectly, assume that their attorney or rep isn’t doing what’s necessary to move their case along (especially when they find out someone else was awarded benefits at an earlier stage) but most of the time, that simply isn’t the problem.
Once a Request for Hearing is filed, there usually isn’t anything to do but wait. In rare cases, clients may qualify for “dire need,” based on their financial circumstances. The criteria for this, however, is very strict and even when a claimant fits this category, it usually speeds the process up by only a few months. Sometimes a claimant’s medical issues are deemed severe enough by Social Security that they push up the timeline for a hearing or approve benefits without waiting for a hearing. Again, these criteria are very specific and most claimants don’t meet them.
Rest assured that we are well aware of these avenues and explore them whenever we are confident they may apply to our clients. Most claimants, though, can expect to wait well more than a year for a hearing date. Some people see applying for disability as a quick solution to their financial woes but in fact, it’s best not to count on that help short-term.
While clients wait for a hearing, many ask why we haven’t requested their medical records from their doctors. It’s simply not in their best interests to do that too early, unless we suspect a client qualifies for one of the above categories. Most physicians charge us for supplying medical records, and that is a cost we must pass on to clients. If we request documentation too early in the process, we’ll have to request updated records when it gets closer to the hearing, because we need the most recent information when making our case before an Administrative Law Judge. Records from two years ago won’t prove the client is disabled now.
While we know this isn’t welcome news, we feel it’s best for people to know what they’re facing. Our clients can count on us for honest evaluations of their claims and straightforward answers. If that’s what you’re looking for, give us a call!