The Social Security Administration recently issued its Summary of Performance & Financial Information Fiscal Year 2012. In that Summary, SSA wrote that its #1 Strategic Goal was to “Deliver Quality Disability Decisions and Services”. In order to reach that goal, SSA identified 3 strategic objectives: 1.) minimize the average wait time from hearing request to decision; 2.) eliminate the oldest remained pending hearing requests; 3.) minimize the average processing time for initial disability claims; and 4.) achieve a target percentage of the quick disability cases. While these 4 goals are important, the one goal which impacts the disabled the most is the wait time for hearings and final decisions.
By far, the biggest surprise for the disabled is to learn that the wait for a hearing decision can be close to or over 1 year from the date a request for a hearing (instead of the date on which the initial application was filed) was filed. In 2012, the average wait time from asking for a hearing to actually having a decision was 362 days or just 3 days short of 1 year.
To better understand this number, a perspective of years past is helpful. In 2008, the time to get a decision was 509 days. In 2009, the time was reduced to 472 days. In 2010, the time was reduced further to 390 days. In 2011, the time to get a disability hearing decision was reduced further to 345 days. The target goal in 2012 was to reduce to the time in which to obtain a decision after a hearing at the ODAR to 321 days. This goal was not met. Instead the number of days for receipt of a hearing decision was increased from 345 to 362.
The Social Security Administration has offered several reasons for the increase. One reason the Agency suggested is due “significant increases” in hearing requests over the past 2 years. A second reason was attributed to the inability of SSA to hire 74 more ALJs has had been scheduled. A third reason was a lack of budget resources which limited opening new offices for ALJ at eight new locations. (Those 8 news offices were to have been in Alabama, California, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New York and Texas.)
The average processing time, for the period between September 29, 2012 and February 22, 2013, for the Indianapolis ODAR was 347 days or 2 days longer than the national average in 2011. This means that the Indianapolis ODAR ranks 63 out of 165 ODAR hearing offices for the February 2013 period. At the end of this period, the Indianapolis ODAR had 7,222 cases pending.
The fastest processing time for cases at ODAR during the February 2013 period was the Shreveport ODAR which was 236 days. The slowest ODAR during the same period was the St. Louis ORDAR which took 499 to complete its cases.