In the last 25 years of handling only social security disability in Dallas Texas, I have seen the waiting time for the Administrative Law Judge hearing go up, and go down. But it has never gone down to anything close to an acceptable level.  Clients asking me all the time” “Why does it take so long to get a hearing”?  (Attorney Nick Ortiz has written a very good article on the subject as well).

First lets look at what the hearing wait times and hearing request backlog looks like in Dallas Fort Worth and throughout the nation.  The below chart show that in the last 4 years the waiting time for a hearing peaked in 2017 at 605 days.  (Ponder that staggering number for a moment).  But the good news is that the wait time went down in bot 2017 and 2018.  As you can see the Administrative Law Judge hearing wait time for 2018 was 538 days.

So how do the waiting times in the 3 social security disability hearing offices in the Dallas Fort Worth area look?  Here are the most recent numbers for DFW:

Hearing Office November 2018 December 2018 January 2019 February 2019 March 2019
Dallas Downtown 12.5 months 13 months 13 months 13 months 12 months
Dallas North 10 months 10 months 11 months 11 months 11 months
Fort Worth 12 months 12 months 11 months 11 months 11.5 months

But back to the question I get 2-3 times a week for the last 25 years: WHY?  Well, the simple answer is that the disability hearing offices incoming hearing requests (receipts) have exceeded the number of case dispositions for many years now.  Not a very satisfying answer, is it?  Social security claims that social security disability applications have been going up each year for many many years and that Congress has not provided sufficient resources (i.e, money) to handle the backlog.The numbers are really shocking to most people: it takes over year to get an ALJ hearing in Dallas Fort Worth? And that is not from the initial application, it is from the actually hearing request.

Those skeptical of government (nearly everyone now?) suspect ODAR to be a lazy bureaucracy always looking for more funding and filled with slackers who cannot be fired because of strong government unions. Partly right. But my experience in the past 25 years is that there are dozens of hard working staff and ALJs in Dallas Fort Worth that are working harder than most of us have to help disabled Americans. When considering the growing Hearing Wait, I would urge consideration of the following:

1. The Administrative Law Judge Hearing is by Nature Time-Intensive

Setting up and conducting the ALJ hearing takes a lot of time on the part of staff and the Administrative Law Judges. Many claimants don’t show up for their hearing, and the hearing office  must give them an opportunity to explain why they were a ‘no-show’.  People come to hearings without an attorney or representative and the ALJ must give them the chance to get an attorney if they want. Even though they have been waiting for over a year, some people fail to secure representation, wasting valuable time and resources.

2.  ALJ’s are duty bound to develop evidence.

For 25 years one of top priorities in representing Dallas Fort Worth social security disability claimants is to come to the ALJ with all medical evidence in front of the judge and up to date. This can be a challenge, and ALJs routinely give claimants and their representatives more time to secure missing evidence after the hearing.  Sometimes a claimant has not been seeing a doctor very much, so the ALJ will order a consultative examination at the government’s expense.  Moreover, more TV national social security disability firms are getting into this practice that often fail to develop the case causing significant delays.  One firm, Citizen’s Disability, requires that their attorneys formally object to every Vocational Expert’s credentials, requiring ALJ’s to waste their time responding  to their objections in writing. They needless extending the length hearings with repetitive questions to the vocational expert.

3. Increased Disability Applications Following the 2008-2009 Financial Crisis

There is significant evidence that good paying blue collar jobs are not coming back under any President. The reality for people over 50 that lose a job is that it is very difficult to find another job.  Many are applying for disability now that in the past would keep working.  Its not that they are faking; they have genuine health problems, but if they had a jo that would somehow force themselves to work.

4. Congress has no appetite for proving social security with more money

The social security admistration has come under intense criticism, with some good reason, in the last fews years for failing to monitor disability claimants, and paying benefits when they should not. Congress is not likely to open themselves up to critics in the conservative media who would contend they are “enabling” more government dependence but giving the agency added funding.

So it is not a pretty picture, but consider this: so-called “liberal” Canada does not provide for an administrative hearing for disability claimants. They have no opportunity to sit in front of a disability decision and tell their story. And consider delays like a judge ordering a consultative exam, or giving a claimant a chance to reset a hearing to get a representative. These delays would not happen if the judge just denied the claimant and sent her on her way.

So a large part of the delay in getting your ALJ hearing is that you are being provided substantive rights we all should be proud of; rights you will be happy you have when it is your time to have an administrative law judge hearing.