If you disagree with a decision by the Social Security Administration (SSA) on a claim for disability benefits, you have the right to appeal. In most cases, that will involve a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ), but it can be a long, arduous process involving multiple steps.
Cases heard by ALJs in October 2022 took nearly 13 months on average to reach that stage, counting from the date the hearing application was filed, according to SSA data. That’s a national figure; depending on which of Social Security’s 168 regional hearing offices handles your case, it can take several months longer or be several months quicker.
And that’s just counting the time from a request for a hearing to the proceeding itself. An ALJ hearing is the second step in a disability appeal, and it can take several months to get to that phase.
In most circumstances you must first ask for a reconsideration by your state’s Disability Determination Services, the same office that handled your initial application. A different disability examiner and medical team takes a fresh look at your claim and any additional evidence you want to present, such as recent medical treatment or exams. You have 60 days after an initial denial to file for reconsideration.
It takes six to seven months on average to get an initial decision on a Social Security disability application, and the average processing time for a reconsideration is around five months, according to the latest SSA data available on these proceedings.
If the reconsideration goes against you, as occurs in most cases, you have 60 days to request a hearing before an administrative law judge, who will review the evidence and may also listen to your testimony and that of expert witnesses.
Once you file for a hearing, the wait time can vary enormously based on the particulars of your case and where you live. According to SSA data, the average for individual hearing offices in October 2022 ranged from 8 to 24 months. Waits have increased considerably in the past year; in October 2021, the range among field offices was 5 to 16 months and the national average was nine months.