Having undertaken Social Security disability hearings for more than twenty-six (26) years, we have seen good times and bad times when it comes to how long one needs to wait to get to a hearing. While the procedure in the State of New Hampshire is more streamlined than that which takes place in Maine and Massachusetts (from the standpoint of remaining a pilot project state where the need to undergo a request for reconsideration process before proceeding with a hearing request has been removed), all three (3) states have lengthy wait periods that remain quite frustrating to Social Security disability claimants who have remained long term disabled and without an income. Here is an update as to where things stand.
Whereas a request for hearing before the Portland, ME Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) used to take less than 12 months (with the hearing office remaining one of the quickest hearing offices to get to hearing), shortages in staff has hindered the ability of the hearing office to handle the increasing number of claims files. The most recent figure is that it is taking 15 months to get to hearing in Portland. In Massachusetts, the Boston, MA ODAR remains one of the most expeditious offices in the nation with a present waiting time of 12.0 months. The Lawrence, MA ODAR, which was established so as to assist with the backlog of cases for individuals residing in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire who reside close enough (within 75 miles of the office), has unfortunately become backlogged to the point of a 16 month wait for hearing. The Manchester, NH office is presently experiencing a delay of 13 1/2 months, with the Springfield, MA ODAR taking slightly longer, with a delay of 14 months. While these times seem rather extreme, it is important to note that Boston, MA hearing office remains in 5th place nationally in terms of the length of time it takes to get to hearing, and certainly, each of the offices mentioned above take less than the 764 days it’s presently taking to get to hearing in Brooklyn, New York. As of May, 2016, there were approximately 1.1 million claimants nationwide awaiting a hearing, with an average waiting time of 526 days. Prior initiatives, including one established in 2007 had served to reduce the waiting time from what had been a national average of 512 in 2007 to what was a low of 353 days in 2012. The waiting times have consistently risen to 382 in 2013, 422 in 2014 and then 480 in 2015.
Needless to say, the hope would be that the Social Security Administration is taking steps to reduce the hearing backlog. Many assurances have been given over a great many years by the Agency, but unfortunately, little progress has been made as a result of budget constraints and hiring freezes that have only hindered their plans. Most recently, the National Office of Disability Adjudication and Review initiated what is called the Compassionate and Responsive Services (CARES) plan in January, 2016 in an attempt to reduce the hearings backlog. According to this plan, the goal is to reduce the backlog nationally to an average of 270 days by Fiscal Year 2020. Many of the initiatives outlined in the 2016 CARES plan have not been been implemented, with a number of them simply called off by Congress. While the hiring of additional Administrative Law Judges (ALJ’s) was to take place in great numbers (with additional staff hired to support the new ALJ’s, representatives learned at the latest NOSSCR conference in June, 2016 that hiring has been slow and the new judges that have been hired are not anticipated to be trained and available to hear cases any time soon. We likewise learned that the number of judges that are leaving their positions has further impacted the Agency’s goals.
Long story short, the news does not appear to be good in the short term for those claimants who need to go to hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. Needless to say, this makes it all the more important that you put your best foot forward on your initial application. Obtaining the legal assistance you need from a knowledgeable Social Security lawyer, early on in the process, remains your best option for trying to avoid a lengthy appeals process. We are happy to speak with you or your loved one should you find yourself in need of some advice, or potentially assistance, with your Social Security disability claim. If so, feel free to give us a call at 1-800-773-8622