Disability applicants who have already gone through the initial application and reconsideration phase of a Social Security disability (or SSI) case need to request an appeal hearing to get a judge to hear their case. These applicants have already put many months into the disability process, and, unfortunately, the time spent waiting for a hearing is usually considerable, and no doubt financially rocky as well.
What is the average wait time for a disability hearing? In 2020, Social Security hearing wait times average about 16 months among the various disability hearing offices, down from an all-time high of 19.5 months in 2017.
What does this mean for you? You can expect to wait anywhere from six months to two years for a hearing. The wait can vary greatly depending on where you live. For example, the average wait time from a hearing request to hearing date at the hearing offices in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Oakland is around 10 months (in 2020). In contrast, the average ALJ hearing wait time in Los Angeles and Phoenix several months longer. Here is Social Security's national list of hearing wait times, which is updated regularly.
Why is there such a difference in hearing wait times when the Social Security disability and SSI programs are federal and standardized, meaning that the system is supposed to operate the same no matter where you live in the United States? One reason is that some hearing offices have to deal with greater numbers of cases. For instance, the Boston region is responsible for only a small percentage of the country's disability hearings, while the New York region holds a significant of percentage of all hearings.
In addition, staffing levels have a big effect on hearing wait times. Some regions have been able to hire and hold on to more judges and/or decision writers than others; Social Security is trying to hire more staff to address this issue. Unfortunately, disability applicants have no choice as to which hearing office will be assigned their case. Social Security hopes that the use of video-conference hearings will help balance workloads across the country.
Claims representatives at the Social Security office where you originally filed your claim have little to do with an SSDI or SSI case after it's been sent to the hearing office. And lawyers don't have any pull in actually scheduling the hearings sooner. That said, lawyers may be able to help applicants with new medical evidence or very strong cases to get an approval from Social Security before the hearing actually gets scheduled—by getting an on-the-record review or attorney advisor opinion. There are, however, a couple of things you can do yourself to try to get a hearing sooner rather than later. Learn more in our article on how to speed up a request for an SSDI or SSI disability hearing.