Sunday, March 27, 2011

How Long It Takes To Get A Social Security Disability Hearing Is Getting Shorter

It looks like Social Security is making progress in how long it takes at the Social Security Disability Hearing level. I recently added the national ranking report as of February 2011 to my Social Security Disability website. There were several things that really stood out and quite frankly shocked me. Not only have the national averages in days for how long it takes from the time you request a hearing until you get a decision gone down, but they went down very significantly. What really amazed me was how much Atlanta and Atlanta North had improved their hearing wait times and rankings. In the national ranking report from May of 2008 the average wait time was 900 days in Atlanta North and 973 days in Atlanta downtown. These were the two worst-ranked hearing offices in terms of how long it took to get a hearing decision. They were ranked 141 and 142 from a total of 142 hearing offices. This meant claimants in Atlanta were waiting almost 3 years from the time they requested their hearing until they got a decision. This was clearly embarrassing for the hearing offices in Atlanta, and for the Social Security Administration. To their credit, they did something about it, and it is quite amazing at what they were able to accomplish. In the national ranking report from November 2009 Atlanta downtown's average waiting period went down to 468 days and North Atlanta went down to 475 days. North Atlanta was then ranked 98 out of 143 and Atlanta downtown was ranked 92 out of 143. The national ranking report from February 2011 showed an even more remarkable improvement. The average wait time at hearing in Atlanta downtown is now down to 302 days with Atlanta North down to 278 days. This means in just four years claimants in Atlanta now have one third the average wait time to get a decision at hearing then claimants did in Atlanta in May of 2008. Atlanta North is now ranked 16th in the 157 present hearing offices and Atlanta downtown is ranked 30th. There was clearly a focus on hearing offices that were ranking extremely poorly, but in the process it also brought down the national average overall. In the May 2008 national report, the national average from the time one requested a hearing until they got a decision was 523 days. In the November 2009 national report, the national average was 446 days. Presently, in the February 2011 national report, the processing time is down to 365 days. So how did they do it? Over the last several years SSA's budget allowed them to open 15 new hearing offices and about five of these were new National Hearing Centers that held video hearings in places with the biggest backlog of cases. The Social Security Administration also hired many new ALJ's and support staffs. There is also very few if any paper files left and the Social Security Administration is now essentially fully electronic. Is the overall wait time for disabled individuals to get through the Social Security disability and SSI process still too long? I think most of us would answer that it surely is, but you have to give the Social Security Administration, the individual hearing offices, and most of all its employees credit for taking great strides in the right direction. For many people with claims for SSDI or SSI these statistics are of little comfort to their financial hardships and probably the most difficult times of their lives, but it is important for people to know that a strong effort is being made to reduce the time they have to wait as much as possible. I will be watching the national ranking report closely to see if the trend continues despite the economy, increasing number of claims, and budget cuts. To see the full ranking reports I am referring to in this post visit my page on the Ultimate Social Security Disability Guide called "how long does it take".