Everyone seems to have a relative or neighbor who has defied the statistics. In truth, more than a couple of my cases have also been awarded in that time or less. But, this anomaly is the exception not the rule. When it comes to the disability waiting period, only 2-3% of cases are awarded within 3 months.
I meet with new clients every week to discuss their cases. During our consultation, I lay out the timetable for a standard Social Security disability case. I explain that in Utah, it takes between 24 and 28 months to get through the first 3 stages of a disability case. And then I tell them that they should plan on their case taking that long. Without fail, at least one of them says to me, “well, I have a friend who did her case by herself and she was awarded in 3 months.”
What these clients are actually saying is, “you must not be very good if it takes you that long and my friend did it in less time by herself.” An excellent argument, to be sure — if it were consistent.
Why are Some Cases Awarded Earlier and Others are Not?
I have had a number of cases won after a very short waiting period. In analyzing them, no pattern about why they were awarded early has emerged. The cases were not similar in medical condition, timing, doctor, Social Security office, age, gender, or work history. In fact, some of them were very weak cases.
So, what causes the varying lengths of a disability waiting period? I think there are several potential contributing factors:
- The way your attorney includes arguments in the initial application and each stage of appeal
- The way your doctor formats his records
- The way you phrased something in your application materials
- The particular condition you have
- Your age
- Whether a judge thinks there are complicated issues he/she wants your attorney to brief
- What the examiner had for breakfast (after all, it is the most important meal of the day)
- Maybe even the weather
A Few Case Studies
I had one case recently with significant challenges. It had been denied twice, and had just been sent out for a hearing. No new evidence had been submitted in between the denial and the request for hearing. By happenstance, the judge decided to review it as soon as he got it, rather than making us wait 16 months for a hearing date. He immediately awarded the claim.
Wait… what? There was not one shred of new evidence submitted from the time the examiner reviewed it to the time the judge reviewed it. So what was the difference? Potentially, it was a result of the additional freedom, if any, granted to judges to work outside the box. Claims examiners don’t have such freedom. It may also have been caused by a fresh set of eyes. We don’t know. But if it was so clear to a judge, why wasn’t it clear to the examiner who denied it twice?
I had another averagely strong case recently that had fallen through the cracks of the Social Security office after it was filed. Once it was rediscovered, the case was awarded 9 weeks later. My office was still in the process of gathering medical information and had not yet submitted any of it to the Social Security office. But it seems that they may have requested their own information. Why so fast?
You may say that the Social Security office personnel were just idiots and awarded the case as a sort of apology for messing up. But that’s not true. This kind of thing happens all the time. In addition, I communicate with these people all the time, and some of them are very good at what they do. Again, there is no clear explanation.
Finally, I had another very strong case that I felt should have been awarded right away. There were thousands of pages of medical records and an injury that clearly would prevent the claimant from working again. On top of that, you didn’t have to dig to see that these things were true.
This case was denied once, then again, before going all the way through the hearing process. By legal standards, this should have been the easiest of the 3 cases we’ve discussed for a claims examiner to award. Each box of the review sheet was clearly check-able based on the doctors’ reports, the claimant’s work history, the severity of their injury, their current treatment plan, and the supporting opinions of every physician involved in the case. Again, this disability waiting period had no clear explanation.
The Disability Waiting Period: A Conclusion
So yes, you may have an aunt whose disability waiting period only lasted 3 months. But you shouldn’t expect that to be the case with yours. The overwhelming majority of cases go all the way through the 3 stages of application, appeal, and hearing — and some beyond that. There are very few that don’t, and the details of those few are very inconsistent. Expecting your case to take only a few months will make for a constantly disappointing and frustrating experience.