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Speeding Up the Decision Making Process

   By far, the biggest complaint voiced by deserving disability claimants has to do with the extremely long time that the Social Security Administration takes to make a decision in a disability case.  In some jurisdictions, a case can take three years or longer from the date of application to the date of final decision.

   According to the 2004 Performance and Accountability Report published by Social Security, the average wait times for disability case processing are as follows:

  • Receipt of claim, work-up by adjudicator and Initial disability determination - 95 days
  • Receipt of reconsideration appeal, file evaluation, issuance of reconsideration decision - 97 days
  • Receipt of hearing appeal, transfer of file to Office of Hearings & Appeals, holding of  hearing by Administrative Law Judge, issuance of hearing decision - 394 days
  • Extra days in process per SSA reports - 211 days

Average elapsed time from initial application to hearing decision: 797 days (2 years, 2 months)

   If a case is denied at the hearing stage and appealed to the appeals council, another year and a half can be added to the process.

   Here are some suggestions about how you can speed up the process:

  • give SSA the information it needs to make a decision.  Without exception, you will need to provide the following:
  • name, address, phone number, date of treatment and nature of treatment for every doctor, hospital, health care provider or therapist that you have seen since you have suffered from the condition that now disables you.
  • if your condition is life long, give SSA medical provider info for at least the 5 years prior to your alleged onset date
    • name, address, phone number and job description for every employer for whom you have worked over the past 15 years
    • the diagnosis and a brief description of every medical or mental health condition that you contend contributes to your disability
  • fill out SSA’s disability forms completely.  Recognize that your case is one of thousands that pass through your local adjudicator’s office.  Don’t make SSA guess.  Print your answers so they are readable.  Sloppy handwriting will only cause a delay.  Don’t leave spaces blank.  See the recommended resources section of this web site for “how to” guides
  • file your appeals sooner rather than later.  You will be given 60 days to file your appeal from an unfavorable disability determination.  File your appeal (reconsideration, hearing or appeals council) sooner rather than later.  There is no reason to use the full 60 days.
  • keep a copy of everything SSA sends you or that your sent to SSA.  Social Security has been known to lose files.  If you have a copy, the file reconstruction process will be that much easier.
  • learn to speak Social Security’s language.  A disability case is about your capacity to work more that it is about your medical conditions.  Identify the specific work activity limitations that result from your medical diagnosis and focus on these limitations in all your communications with SSA.
  • enlist the help of your U.S. Representative or Senator.  You federal representatives cannot help influence SSA on your behalf, they can sometimes get your case moved to the front of the line at the hearing stage.  This tactic is most effective when you have overwhelming medical support for your claim.
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