Average Wait Time for a Social Security Disability Hearing

You can expect to wait anywhere from six months to two years for a hearing date. The map below shows hearing wait times across the country.

By , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

Most Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) applications must be appealed before they're approved—dragging your claim out for months or even years. Once you've gone through the initial determination and reconsideration phase of a disability claim, you'll need to request an appeal hearing. It's at the hearing stage that most successful claims are approved.

But by the time you request a hearing, you'll likely have already put many months into the disability process. And, unfortunately, you'll probably spend considerable time waiting for a hearing, which can really stress your finances. Here's what we know about the wait time for a Social Security disability hearing.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Hearing for Disability?

You can expect to wait anywhere from six months to two years for a hearing.

The average wait time for a Social Security disability hearing will vary based on where you live (see the map, which has both nationwide approval rates and hearing wait times).

According to the Social Security Administration, in 2023, the average wait time for a disability hearing was 450 days (about 15 months) across the various disability hearing offices. That's down from an average wait of 605 days (about 20 months) in 2022.

For example, the average wait time from a hearing request to a hearing date at the hearing offices in Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco is about a year and a half (in 2023). In contrast, the average ALJ hearing wait times in Los Angeles and Oakland, California are several months longer (about 22 months in 2023). And in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the average wait time for a disability hearing is over two years (25 months).

Where's the shortest disability hearing wait time? SSDI and SSI applicants in Toledo, Ohio, and Paducah, Kentucky are only waiting an average of nine months for their ALJ hearings.

Here is Social Security's national list of hearing wait times, which is updated regularly.

Why Does the Average Wait Time for Disability Hearings Vary So Much?

Why do the hearing wait times differ so much across the country when Social Security disability and SSI are federal programs? The system is standardized, meaning it's supposed to operate the same no matter where you live in the United States. But that's not really possible because the Office of Hearing Operations (OHO), which handles ALJ hearings, isn't one central office.

The OHO is a collection of more than 160 offices across all fifty states. Each office faces some challenges with a backlog of cases coming from Disability Determination Services. And there are location-specific issues that create additional delays in some offices.

One reason for the difference in disability hearing wait times across the country is that some hearing offices handle more cases. For instance, the Toledo office is responsible for only a tiny percentage of the country's disability hearings, while the Los Angeles OHO handles a larger proportion of all hearings. But the number of claims in a region is only one factor.

OHO staffing levels are uneven nationwide, creating bigger backlogs in some offices and significantly affecting hearing wait times in those locations. Some regions have been able to hire and hold on to more judges and decision writers than others. Social Security is working to hire more staff to address this issue, and the situation is gradually improving.

But the backlog of 350,000 cases at the hearing is expected to last until the end of 2024. At that point, OHO hopes to have hearing wait times down to nine months across the country.

Unfortunately, you have no choice about which hearing office will handle your disability case. Where you have your hearing is based on where you live. Social Security hopes that holding more hearings by video conference will help balance workloads nationwide.

Can a Disability Lawyer or Claims Representative Help You Get a Faster Hearing?

Calling the Social Security office where you initially filed your claim won't speed up your hearing date. Local claims representatives have little to do with your SSDI or SSI case once it's sent to the hearing office.

And lawyers (who are also sometimes called claims representatives) don't have too much pull in actually scheduling the hearings sooner. But an attorney might be able to help you get your SSI or SSDI claim approved before the hearing is even scheduled.

An attorney can present a very strong case and help you gather and submit more compelling medical evidence, which could get you an on-the-record review or attorney advisor opinion before you get a hearing date.

There are also a few things you can do yourself that might help you get a hearing sooner rather than later. Learn more about what you can do to shorten the wait time for your disability hearing.

Updated July 27, 2023

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