Due to the high volume of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) applications that cross the desk of the Social Security Administration (SSA), disability claimants often must wait a substantial amount of time for a decision on their claim.
Those who have already faced denials during the initial application and reconsideration process now await an appeals hearing in front of an administrative law judge (ALJ). The good news is that the majority of disability claims are won at this level.
However, the wait times for appeals hearings have been increasing substantially over the last few years. While wait times vary depending on where the claimant lives, the national average from the date of request to the actual hearing is approximately 20 months.
This means that many disabled individuals wait well over two years for a final decision from the SSA.
During this waiting period, many people suffer both physically and financially. While awaiting a decision, individuals often exhaust their savings, rack up debt, and must rely on the help of others.
Many individuals wonder if there is any way to have their case heard more quickly. While you may be facing difficult times, it’s important to remember that almost everyone who applies for SSDI is suffering from financial hardship in some way.
There is often very little that can be done to speed up your particular case. With that being said, some special circumstances might apply to your specific situation that could potentially expedite your claim.
The SSA recognizes that some illnesses are so severe that individuals might not have the time to wait for the lengthy application process to be completed. As such, the SSA maintains a list of conditions in its “Compassionate Allowance List” (CAL).
If you have one of the listed conditions, could be awarded benefits in a matter of weeks, instead of years.
While individuals are screened when first applying for SSDI, sometimes CAL cases are missed. Additionally, in rare cases, a previously diagnosed condition progresses to the point that is now listed as a CAL.
If you have a severe illness that is listed as a CAL, you should notify the Social Security office immediately.
Disability claimants who have been denied at the initial stages and are awaiting an appeals hearing can request an “on-the-record” (OTR) review of their case. If a claimant’s medical status is particularly compelling, as evidenced by substantial medical documentation, an OTR review might be granted.
OTR reviews are requested through the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR). After submitting a brief summarizing your argument, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will review your medical documentation.
If the ALJ feels that there is enough information to rule in your favor, you will be approved for SSDI benefits without the need for a hearing.
Attorney Advisor Decision
Similar to an OTR review, another way to skip the line for your appeals hearing is to be awarded a review by an Attorney Advisor. An Attorney Advisor is a lawyer that works for the Social Security Administration, with the primary goal of reducing the workload of Social Security’s ALJs.
As a general rule, Attorney Advisors will review cases in which there is new and convincing medical evidence, where there might be a chance in the law, or if an error occurred during the processing of the case.
Requesting an Expedite of the Hearing Based on Dire Need
If your financial situation has declined so severely that you do not have the money to meet your basic living needs, you can request a “Dire Need” letter to the SSA’s ODAR. If the SSA agrees that you are in dire need, your appeals hearing will be expedited.
Although inconvenient, not being able to pay your cable bill or car loan typically will not constitute a dire need in the eyes of the Social Security Administration.
Rather, you will need to prove that you are unable to obtain food, cannot access medications or medical care, your electricity has been shut off, or you are facing eviction or foreclosure of your home. You will need to provide documentation such as letters from your lender or utility companies.
Terminal Illness (TERI)
If a claimant has a terminal illness, his or her file can be flagged as a “TERI” case. Applicants who are deemed to have a terminal disease, typically designated as having less than six months to live, are given special consideration for an expedited application process.
Military Service Members
In certain situations, individuals who were injured or sustained an illness while on active duty status will be deemed critical cases and will be expedited. This “Wounded Warrior” program does not require that injuries be combat related, only that the claimant must have become disabled while on active duty.
Also, veterans who have been given a VA compensation rating of 100% permanent and total (P&T) may also receive an expedited process.
If there is compelling evidence that an applicant is in danger of self-harm or poses a physical threat to others, the Social Security Administration may decide to expedite the claim. However, the SSA will need to find credible evidence that the suicidal ideations or homicidal tendencies are legit.
Individuals who feel that their claim is not being handled correctly or quickly enough can contact their local senator or representative to request a congressional inquiry.
Once presented with the information, your congressperson will decide if he or she will contact the SSA on your behalf to obtain an update on the status of your case. In certain situations, a congressional inquiry can speed up the scheduling of an appeals hearing.
Can an Attorney Help Expedite my Appeals Hearing?
An experienced Social Security Disability Attorney is very familiar with the excessive wait times for appeals hearings. A lawyer may have very little influence over the timing of your hearing if your case follows a predicted track.
However, if you are experiencing a worsening of your condition, are facing significant financial hardship, or have other extenuating circumstances, there are steps that a Disability Attorney could take on your behalf.