How Long Does it Take to Obtain a Decision?
The length of time it takes to reach a decision depends on a number of factors, that may be out of the hands of your Social Security lawyer: how long it takes for SSA to obtain your medical records, whether your individual circumstances require SSA to obtain additional forms from you or others (such as regarding work that has been performed for the same time period you’re claiming disability, or, for example, regarding workers’ compensation benefits that you’ve received in the interim) and whether SSA needs to send you to one of their doctors for an evaluation (for what is referred to as a consultative examination). Likewise, Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire Social Security decisions may be picked up by the Boston Quality Review Team to determine the appropriateness of a recommended decision. Typically, a decision is rendered anywhere from 3 to 6 months following the receipt of your application, however this process can be delayed an additional 1 to 3 months if in fact it your case is picked up by Quality Review. Our experience has been that far more cases that are being recommended as favorable decisions are being picked up to be reviewed by Quality Review than those that are being denied.
Assuming your claim has been denied initially and you have to file a Request for Reconsideration (mind you, there is no such process in New Hampshire: one proceeds directly to the hearing stage in New Hampshire), then one is looking at what can be an additional 3 to 5 months on average. The same factors mentioned above will similarly affect how long the reconsideration process can take. Assuming there is very little treatment and no new medical conditions being alleged that might warrant a consultative examination with one of Social Security’s doctors, then the process can even be as quick a couple of months.
The hearing process, however, involves a much longer wait for to get to a hearing. The length of the wait is very dependent on the particular hearing office and the backlog being faced by that office. Sometimes there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to why a particular case can be taken much earlier, and other times (such as if we’re representing a disabled Veteran), it is well understood that their claims are provided priority.
Presently, our cases out of the Manchester, NH hearing office are waiting anywhere from 7 to 14 months to get to a hearing (and following that period of time, it takes 1 to 2 months for the decision to be written and issued). Right around 12 months would be the average. However, it is not unusual to see a case take a bit longer to get to hearing if in fact the hearing needs to take place at one of the satellite locations: for example, if the Western, NH case is being heard out of the Brattleboro, Vermont location, it can take a bit longer as the judges hold in person hearings at this location on an irregular basis.
The Lawrence, MA hearing office is taking on average anywhere from 12 to what can be 18 months for our cases. On average, they are reporting an 18 months wait time, and this is primarily because they are taking over cases for other hearing offices that are backlogged and in need of assistance. That being said, the Portland, Maine hearing office is taking on average 17 months and to a large extent this has been impacted by judges who have resigned, become ill or transferred to other offices. The Boston, MA ODAR is running at a very steady 12 months to get to hearing, while the Springfield, MA ODAR is taking slightly longer at 14 months.
It is important to understand that with respect to the hearing decisions, it’s taking 1-2 months on average for the decisions to be written, following the hearing. Thus, there may be the occasional delay in the process should the judge wish to obtain additional evidence following the hearing or should it be necessary to file a post-hearing brief with the judge on your behalf.