Hearing Decision Delays

As frustrating as it may be to wait 18 to 24 months to actually get a hearing date, delays in the issuance of a hearing decision cause even more anger and anguish among my clients.  I know from talking to several Atlanta area Administrative Law Judges that all the judges are aware of these frustrations and they are under pressure from regional officials to speed up the decision making process.

Part of the problem stems from the procedure that Social Security uses to issue decisions.  After a judge hears your case, he completes a form setting out his decision and the rationale behind the decision to a “decision writer” in that particular hearing office.   The decision writer then takes the judges notes and drafts a written decision – it can be “fully favorable,” “partially favorable,” or “unfavorable.”

The typical hearing decision in a Social Security case consists of 10 to 12 pages.  About half of this decision is “boilerplate,” meaning that it is basically the same in every case.  The rest of the decision relates specifically to your case.

When you read your decision you will note that the judge discusses all of the medical treatment you have incurred and he will indicate how much weight he assigned to those treatment records.  In an unfavorable case, the judge will look for specific medical records which suggest that you are not as impaired as you say you are.  If your case involves conflicting medical opinion, the judge has to state which provider he feels is more credible than the other.

Hearing decision are subject to review by the Appeals Council – this review can be the result of an appeal by you, or a random review of a favorable decision by the Appeals Council.   Thus most judges want to make a concerted effort to explain the reasons behind their decisions – both as a courtesy to you, and as a condition of their jobs.

Some judges are simply more organized and faster than others.   In the Atlanta area, I tell my clients that they can expect to receive their decision within 60 to 90 days after their hearing.  If no decision has been received after three months, my secretary or I will call the hearing office to confirm that the file has not been lost and that the decision is still pending.   Some judges are receptive to email requests for updates and I will go that route where appropriate.

Unfortunately, there is little that I (or you) can do to force a judge to issue a decision.  I do not think it is a good idea to pester the judges or their assistants with requests for status updates as doing so risks irritating the judge.

In all my years of practice there have been one or two occasions where I asked for help from the Regional Commissioner when no hearing decision was forthcoming a full year after the hearing.