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

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Question

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?

Answer

How long will it take to get a decision from a judge once you've already had your disability hearing? There is no set schedule. Some hearing offices say it will take approximately six weeks to receive a decision; 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 recently, the average wait time for a decision was eight weeks, though 40% of readers received a decision letter within four weeks, and 40% had to wait 10 weeks or more.

If you're represented by a lawyer, he or she 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.

If you really want to get a handle on how long your hearing decision will take, you can try calling the hearing office and speaking with a staff member. Just keep this in mind: anything they tell you should be ingested with several grains of salt.

Regarding how long your benefits will take to start, this is even more nebulous. If you are approved for benefits, your file will be sent by the Office of Hearings Operations (OHO) to a payment processing center. There, your monthly benefits will be calculated, as well as the back payments you are 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 will receive SSDI or SSI. And if you have 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 some claimants will even find that a large backpayment has been deposited to a checking account before a notice of award letter has even been received.

Claimants who don't receive their benefits according to the distribution date cited in their notice of award should contact their local Social Security office.

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