People who apply for Social Security disability benefits frequently ask the following questions about the progress of their Social Security disability application.
How long will it take for a hearing to be held, a decision to be issued and for benefits to be paid?
The time between when a person requests a social security disability hearing until a decision is issued varies a lot. Nationally, hearing offices average 15.5 months from the date of a hearing request until the decision is issued. Some states don’t take that long and others take longer.
After the hearing, unless the judge issues a bench decision at the hearing, it takes an average of two to three months for a decision to be issued.
After that, if you are awarded disability benefits, it takes a month or two for current benefits to start being paid. From the date of the decision, it can take from one to five or six months for all back benefits to be paid, sometimes longer when there is SSI involved. Thus, all this takes a long time, much longer than it should.
Unfortunately, there are few opportunities for your lawyer to speed things up. About all your lawyer can do is try not to slow things down.
How will I be notified about the date of my disability hearing?
You should hear from your lawyer first. The judge’s assistant will telephone your lawyer before scheduling your hearing to make sure that your lawyer has the date available. As soon as your lawyer hears from the judge’s assistant, he or she will send you a letter. After you get the letter from your lawyer, you’ll get a Notice of Hearing from the judge.
What happens if I get a Notice of Hearing before I get a letter from my lawyer telling me about the date?
It may be that someone failed to call your lawyer about your hearing. So, if you get a Notice of Hearing before you get a letter from your lawyer telling you the date of your hearing, call your lawyer immediately.
Do I need to get medical records or reports for my lawyer?
No. You don’t have to get any medical records or reports yourself. In fact, it’s better if you do not even try to get such things unless your lawyer asks you to.
But what if my doctor gives me a report?
If you happen to get something such as a disability form completed by your doctor for an insurance company, etc., be sure to send your lawyer a copy.
What if the Judge sends me a form to be completed by my doctor?
Sometimes a claimant may be sent a form to be completed by a doctor concerning how much work the claimant can do. If the judge sends you a form to be completed by your doctor, telephone your lawyer so that the two of you can discuss how to deal with this. Your lawyer may want you to send the form to him.
Should I send anything to the judge?
No. As a rule, do not send anything of any substance to the judge without your lawyer seeing it first.
Should I send my lawyer the “acknowledgment” that comes with the Notice of Hearing?
No. There will be a paper sent to you with your Notice of Hearing that you must mark to indicate that you’ll be coming to the hearing. This paper is called an Acknowledgment of Notice of Hearing. You may send the “acknowledgment” directly back to the judge. Your lawyer doesn’t have to see it. But don’t send anything else to the Social Security Administration without your lawyer seeing it first.
Will I have to fill out any forms before my hearing?
Yes. Usually the judge will send you some forms to complete about recent medical treatment, what medications you’re taking, etc. Complete these forms as soon as possible after you get them and send them to your lawyer. Your lawyer will forward them to the judge.
What will my lawyer do to prepare for the hearing?
Your lawyer will review your Social Security file and will figure out what is needed to prove to win your case and how to prove it. Your lawyer will get the necessary medical records and other records. Your lawyer will obtain reports from your doctors, if necessary. And your lawyer will meet with you a day or so before your hearing to get you prepared to testify. Your lawyer will also talk with any witnesses from whom we may want to present testimony at your hearing.
What can I do to help get ready for my disability hearing?
Think about who might be a good witness — someone who knows you well, who knows all the problems you’ve been having lately and who can describe them for the judge.
Most people use as witnesses their spouse, another family member, or a close friend because usually they are the ones who know them the best and there really isn’t anyone else. Such witnesses are fine. They are truthful, good witnesses. However, sometimes a judge will think that close friends or family members bend over backwards to help a claimant. Therefore, often the very best witnesses are people who are not as close and who might be considered more objective.
Some people who have applied for social security disability benefits have suggested as witnesses former supervisors, coworkers, social workers, vocational rehabilitation counselors, ministers, landlords, neighbors, etc. If you have an idea for having someone like this to be a witness, call your lawyer about it when you receive the letter from your lawyer notifying you of your hearing date.
Should I try to get letters from friends and relatives about my disability?
Letters from friends, relatives and other people can be very useful in a social security disability case. As a rule, the more such letters, the better. If you want, your lawyer can provide you with a memo to distribute to friends and relatives that explains how to prepare such a letter.
Should I telephone my lawyer whenever I see a doctor?
No. It is not necessary to telephone your lawyer about routine medical care. But keep track of the dates of all medical treatment between now and the time of your hearing.
When your lawyer sends you the letter about your hearing date, he or she will probably send you a form to complete to describe all of the medical care you’ve received since you first met with your lawyer.
It is important for your lawyer to have complete names and addresses of all treating sources. Therefore, help your lawyer by gathering business cards for all doctors, therapists, etc., and sending them to your lawyer when you are asked for a medical care update.
Under what circumstances should I telephone my lawyer?
There probably will be little need for you to telephone your lawyer to discuss your case prior to the time your lawyer notifies you of when your hearing will be held.
However, you should telephone your lawyer if one of the following things happens:
- There is a dramatic change in your condition — either for the worse or the better.
- Your doctor gives you a new diagnosis of your medical condition.
- You are hospitalized.
- You go back to work.
- You are thinking about going to work full-time or part-time.
- You change your address and/or telephone.
- Someone from the Social Security Administration contacts you.
- You get a letter from the Social Security Administration that you don’t understand.
- You get a Notice of Hearing without first getting a letter from your attorney telling you the date of your hearing.
- You get a form from the judge to be completed by your doctor.
And, feel free to telephone your attorney if at any time you have a question about your case.