If you have received a denial at both the initial and the reconsideration level, you will then appeal the decision to the hearing level. This is when you and your representative will have the opportunity to go before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in court. What many people don’t know is that once you reach the hearing level, there are still several steps that must be taken both before and after your hearing date.
Each step is at a certain status. The SSA and your representative’s office will keep you informed of what status your case is in; however, this process can take anywhere from 12-18 months once you are at the hearing level, and your claim will spend varying amounts of time in each status. The SSA has no specific timeframe for each status, and your representative will not be able to tell you exactly how long it will take either. In general, the biggest determining factors in how long your claim will take depends on the total amount of claims the Office of Disability and Review (ODAR) clerk is handling at a time, which office your hearing will be held at, and the complexity of your disability claim. It’s important to note that Georgia, in particular, is backlogged, so all claims will take some time despite in any other factors.
Below, we have listed the most common status updates you will receive and what they mean.
- Pending Folder Assembly/Folder Assembly – At this point your evidence is being organized and exhibited in a folder for the ALJ and representative to review prior to your hearing.
- Pending ALJ Assignment – The completed file is waiting to be assigned to an ALJ. This can often take several months due to backlog in the system.
- Ready to Schedule – This means your file has been assigned to an ALJ and is waiting to be placed on the docket. Some ODAR locations will immediately place your case into this status, which is why you will not get a hearing date immediately after your status is ready to schedule.
- Post-Hearing Development – Your hearing with the ALJ and your representative has been held; however, there were additional pieces of evidence that were not received and submitted. The ALJ will keep your case in post-hearing development for a limited amount of time in order to submit the outstanding pieces of evidence.
- Post-Hearing Review – Additional evidence can no longer be submitted. The evidence in the file is being reviewed by the judge in order to issue a decision.
- Pending Decision Writing – This is after your hearing and all outstanding documents have been submitted. Your file is no longer open for additional information to be submitted.
- Decision Writing Process – A decision has been made by the ALJ, and the ALJ’s staff is writing a formal decision for you and your representative. The decision will consider the medical evidence in the file and the testimony provided at the hearing. After this, the decision will be mailed to you and your representative. Again, no additional evidence may be added to your file at this time.
While some claims may not go through post-hearing development or review, all claims will go through each of the other steps. Once the decision writing process is complete, you and your representative will receive a decision in the mail. Your representative’s office will contact you to discuss the decision, answer any additional questions you may have, and tell you what to expect next.