How Long Will It Take for a Judge's Decision and How Long Before Benefits Start?

Find out the timelines for a Social Security hearing decision and the start of your disability benefits.

Updated by , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

Here are some answers to common questions about when you can expect a judge's decision after a disability hearing and when you can expect payments to start (if you're approved).

Question: How Long Does It Take to Get an ALJ Decision After a Hearing?

Do you think that you could provide me with an estimated waiting period for a decision from an ALJ, after a Social Security disability hearing? I live in the state of Illinois, and my hearing was held about two weeks prior. The hearing was held in Evanston, Illinois. I am a 58-year-old man and I also have a service-connected disability from the Marine Corps. I was represented by an attorney. The judge found me to be credible and Social Security's vocational work expert at the hearing said that I was unable to work in any capacity. Thank you for your consideration regarding this matter.


It sounds like you'll be getting good news, but the amount of time to get an actual decision following a hearing varies case by case and hearing office by hearing office. It can take anywhere from three weeks to three months or more. If your lawyer is familiar with the judge, he or she may have an idea of how long that judge is known to take to issue a decision. The average wait time it takes to get a decision is eight weeks.

You can also call your hearing office to ask about the status of your particular case. The number for the Office of Hearings Operations (OHO) in Evanston is 866-336-6051.

But remember that you're not approved until you get an award letter. After the hearing, Social Security will check to see if and how much you've been working since you applied, to make sure you're not doing a substantial amount of work. If you are, you won't get an award letter.

Also, know that getting service-connected disability from the VA is no guarantee of getting Social Security disability benefits (although judges may give some weight to the VA's records of your disability).

Question: Why Is My Disability Decision Late After My Hearing?

I went to my appeal hearing in Buffalo and the judge told me that I would have his decision in 30 days. It's been longer than that now and I'm wondering what to do. Does this mean it's bad news? I've been calling the SSA's hotline, but they can't tell me anything. I waited two years for my hearing and now over a month for a final decision. Please help if you can. I'm just looking for answers. Thank you.


New York's hearing offices are experiencing long wait times for hearings, and the Buffalo office in particular has a long backlog of disability cases. Long wait times for hearings also generally mean longer than usual wait times for the final decision letter.

That said, it does often take longer to get a denial decision from a judge than an approval. In a survey we took of our readers who had gone to a Social Security disability appeal hearing, it took on average about seven weeks to get an approval letter after the hearing, and almost ten weeks to get a denial letter. But the fact that it's been over 30 days doesn't mean anything—most people who get approvals have to wait over 30 days for the decision.

Your local hearing office, the Buffalo Office of Hearings Operations (OHO), may be able to give you an updated status on your case. Their number is 866-348-5819.

Question: How Long After My Disability Hearing Will My Benefits Start?

I just had my disability hearing and I thought it went well. When will I get a decision? And assuming I'm approved for benefits, when will they start?


Your decision letter. How long it will take to get a decision from a judge once you've already had your disability hearing varies. Some hearing offices say it will take approximately six weeks to receive a decision, but some judges tell claimants they try to have the decision out in 30 days. In a survey we did of readers who had been to an appeal hearing, the average wait time for a decision was eight weeks, though 40% of readers received a decision letter within four weeks. Another 40% had to wait 10 weeks or more.

If you're represented by a lawyer, the law firm may have a fairly good handle on how long a particular judge normally takes to get a decision out. But even then it is just guesswork, and it likely depends on how backed up your hearing office is.

Your benefits. Regarding how long your benefits will take to start, the wait time for benefits is even more dependent on the facts of your case. If you're approved for benefits, your file will be sent by the Office of Hearings Operations (OHO) to a payment processing center. The payment processing center will calculate your monthly benefits, as well as the back payments you're due.

How long a case stays at a payment center is a wild card variable and is dependent on the workload that a payment center has to deal with as well as whether you'll receive SSDI or SSI. And if you've done any work since applying for benefits, the wait may be longer. In our survey, readers told us it took an average of two and a half months to get the first check, but many people received their first check within a month.

On your notice of award letter (this is the document that spells out a claimant's benefit amounts), you should see a date that your benefits will start. Some claimants actually receive their benefits by this date, but others do not. And a few claimants will even find that a large back payment has been deposited to a checking account before they've even received a notice of award letter.

If you don't receive your benefits according to the distribution date in your notice of award, and you don't have a lawyer, contact your local Social Security office.

Note: To find out how long the overall disability determination process takes, see our article on how long it takes to get SSDI or SSI benefits.

Updated February 25, 2023

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