New audit figures are in, straight from the Office of the Inspector General of Social Security, and the information confirms what we have been telling our clients for months: the waiting period at the hearing level is getting longer.
In calendar year 2012, and looking at the United States as a whole, the waiting period between the date a Request for Hearing was filed and the hearing date averaged 353 days. In calendar year 2014, that waiting time increased to 422 days.
The situation is worse in some hearing offices than others.
Here in Columbus, Ohio, the average waiting period is about 13 months, not nearly as bad as it was several years ago when claimants routinely waited two years after requesting their hearing.
In Dayton, Toledo, and Cleveland, the average waiting period is also 13 months. However, the Cincinnati hearing office has recently lost several ALJ’s to illness, retirement, or transfer, and appeals processed out of that office are taking an average period of 16 months before being scheduled for hearing. Akron cases are also averaging 16 months before hearings are being held.
It appears that some National Hearing Center hubs, where ALJ’s appear by a television screen from other states and experts are usually on the phone, are processing cases more quickly, with National Hearing Center wait times ranging from 10 to 15 months. However, QUICKER ISN’T BETTER, and we still advise most of our clients to opt for the more intimate experience of an in-person judge.
All of the above statistics notwithstanding, it may be possible in some circumstances to speed along the processing of a hearing-level claim.
In most cases judges prefer the opportunity to hear a claimant’s testimony before rendering a decision. However, when a case is extremely strong, it may be possible to convince a judge to pay the case without the necessity of a hearing.
When a claimant is homeless or is facing a life-threatening illness, it may be possible to request expedited scheduling. This is called a Dire Needs case, and a special form must be completed and submitted to the hearing office explaining the dire circumstances.
For these reasons, it is very important that our clients keep us updated with your circumstances at all times, by email, phone, or letter.