After Your SSA Disability Hearing: What You Should Know When Waiting On The Decision

You spent months wondering what was going to happen at your Social Security disability hearing. Now that you've made it through the hearing, you naturally want to know what happens next. Here's what you should know after your hearing.

1.) It may still be several months before you get a decision.

There is no fixed amount of time that it takes from the time that you have your hearing to the time that you get the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ's) decision. Even if the judge indicated that he or she is going to approve your claim, it can take months before you finally receive the award notice. 

The reason that it takes so long is that the ALJs don't actually write the decisions. The case goes from the ALJ to a decision writer (usually an attorney working for SSA). The decision writer reviews your file, including the ALJs notes, and writes the final decision. Then, your case file goes back to the ALJ, who has to review the decision for any errors. Only then is the decision signed. Most ALJs actually only make one or two case dispositions per work day.

2.) How long it takes to get a decision is not an indication of what the decision will be.

Don't get discouraged if it's taking a long time to get a decision on your case. The delay is often caused by the amount of backlog happening at any given moment in the ALJ's office and in the office of the decision writer.

Other things that can cause delays are:

  • a change in your medical condition occurred by the time you appeared at the hearing. If your condition improved, worsened, or you developed new medical problems, the ALJ can't make a decision without current medical records. His or her decision has to be supported by evidence in your file.
  • the ALJ wants to see if your condition will continue for the 12 month period required to qualify for disability benefits. This usually occurs when the ALJ decides that your condition has only recently met the level of severity necessary to qualify for benefits (even though you may have had the condition, to a less severe degree) for some time.
  • the decision writer is unable to determine what evidence is being used to justify the ALJ's decision. Mistakes happen, and sometimes a file has to go back and forth between the ALJ and the decision writer for clarification on some point relevant to the decision.

3.) You have additional appeal rights if your claim is still denied.

Hopefully your claim will get approved and your benefits will get started as soon as SSA gets the ALJ's decision. However, you can still try to appeal the ALJ's decision if your case does get denied.

If you appeal, you must do so in writing within 60 days of the ALJ's written decision. You do this by filing a Request For Review Of Hearing Decision/Order. This appeal is very different however, because it doesn't involve collecting new medical evidence or any further testimony by experts. Instead, it focuses on whether or not the ALJ made any legal errors. It also checks to see if all the evidence in your case was properly considered.

It's also different from other appeals in that you don't have an automatic right to the appeal. The Appeals Council can refuse to review the ALJ's decision. If that happens, your only recourse is to take your case to try to take your case to federal court.

If you feel like it's been far too long since your hearing, contact your attorney to discuss the situation. Sometimes a well-placed phone call can uncover the reason for the delay (if any). In addition, talk to your attorney about what will happen if your case is denied. Your attorney, such as Oot & Associates Law Offices, is in the best position to help you decide how to proceed if that happens.