When you're disabled and you get denied for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, you might wait two years for a hearing before a Social Security judge. This delay can be difficult, but there are ways to get your Social Security hearing scheduled faster.
The Social Security hearing is the third step you may need to take when you apply for Social Security benefits. You first file an application. If you get denied, you request a reconsideration. The first two steps can take a year or more. If you get denied again, you request a hearing with an administrative law judge (ALJ), which might not get scheduled for another year. Once you request a hearing, you can try one of these methods to get an earlier hearing date.
Without an income, waiting for a Social Security hearing can be very challenging. You may struggle with having a stable place to stay, enough food, or proper medical care. If this happens, check with your county or state government for help with housing, food stamps, or Medicaid.
If you're struggling with these basic needs, you can ask the Social Security hearing office for a hearing sooner. The hearing office is different from the Disability Determination Services agency that decided your claim.
Judges who work out of these hearing offices usually take turns reviewing letters from people asking for hearings sooner. If you're waiting for a hearing and you're at risk of having nowhere to stay, not having enough to eat, or losing access to essential medical care, you can send a "dire need letter" to your Office of Hearings Operations to ask for an earlier hearing.
An effective dire need letter should include:
Note that most people waiting for a hearing are unable to work. Your dire need letter should list the issues you are having with daily activities and work-related activities. Keep your letter short but specific. Type it or print it neatly.
Send your letter to your hearing office, but keep a photocopy of your full letter and the supporting documents in case they get lost in the mail.
Make a note for yourself to contact the hearing office about 10 days later to verify the hearing office received it. If the hearing office hasn't received your letter, send a copy of your letter and supporting documents, and follow up again.
Federally elected representatives can help you get a Social Security hearing scheduled sooner. Your state has two U.S. Senators and your congressional district has a member of the House of Representatives. You can find your representatives online based on where you live. Each member of Congress has a support staff, usually with one staff member dedicated to handling Social Security matters.
Reach out to one of your representatives to tell them about your wait for an appeal hearing. A staff member will usually ask you to sign and return an authorization form. The signed authorization allows a staff member to make inquiries about the status of your Social Security claim.
A congressional inquiry is most effective when you have unusual circumstances surrounding your wait for a hearing. For example, it can help if you have already been waiting a year for a hearing. It can also help if the hearing office hasn't been able to confirm the status of your claim for you. If you're in danger of losing housing or don't have access to enough food or medical care, include that dire-need information for your representative.
A congressional inquiry may prompt the hearing office to resolve an issue or schedule your hearing earlier.
When an Office of Hearings Operations schedules your hearing, the law requires you to have 75 days' notice. This means that, once your hearing is scheduled, you'll face another 75-day delay. You can write the hearing office a letter stating that you don't require this much advanced notice. This is called "waiving" advanced notice.
Hearing offices often have openings from cancellations. Waiving advanced notice might allow you to get someone else's hearing slot (the hearing office can call you just a week or two ahead of time and ask you if you can appear on a date that another claimant canceled).
An effective letter waiving advanced notice of your hearing should include:
Your statement should include the following:
If you send a letter offering to waive advanced notice, follow up with the hearing office 10 days later to confirm they've received it. Also, plan for you or your Social Security attorney to keep your medical records updated with the hearing office from time to time by sending them information from your recent doctor's office visits and test results. Then, your hearing record will be as up-to-date as possible if your hearing is scheduled quickly.
If you're diagnosed with a terminal illness while waiting for a hearing or at any stage of your Social Security benefits claim, you have what SSA calls a "TERI" case. Social Security procedures require your claim to be sped up. You or an immediate family member should contact the Social Security office where your claim is being processed and inform them about:
You can also ask your treating physician (a doctor you regularly see) to give you a dated and signed letter explaining your terminal illness diagnosis and prognosis. Forward a copy of this letter to Social Security.
If your case is strong, once your claim gets to the hearing level, you could receive an approval without needing to appear at a hearing.
While you're waiting for a hearing, you can ask the hearing office if your medical evidence is strong enough to approve you without a hearing. This is called an "on-the-record" (OTR) approval.
If you've had medical treatment for significant medical issues since you applied, write a letter to the hearing office asking that your file be reviewed for an OTR prior to a hearing date.
An effective letter asking for an on-the-record approval should include:
Arguments for OTR approvals can include any of the following:
Include updated medical records with your request and, if possible, a supportive letter from your treating physician with your OTR request. If you aren't represented by a Social Security attorney, you might consider hiring one to discuss whether the attorney can make a strong argument that supports an approval OTR.
If you were disabled while serving in the military, you could qualify for fast processing of your Social Security disability claim. Specifically, if you have a 100% permanent and total (P&T) VA benefit rating because of a service-connected injury or illness, Social Security will expedite processing of your Social Security benefits claim at all levels.
Let Social Security know your 100% service-connected VA rating when you request a hearing, or even when you first apply for benefits. Send Social Security a copy of your VA benefit notification letters with your request.
Updated May 27, 2022