According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), Miami is the worst place to be in the United States if you need a hearing about your Social Security Disability (SSD) claim. The average wait time for a hearing in Miami is 22 months. Other places with similar wait times include Columbia, South Carolina; Brooklyn; Cincinnati; Dover, Delaware; Greensboro, North Carolina; and Rochester, New York. All of these have an average wait time of 20 months.
Waiting for a Hearing Is the Tip of the Iceberg
This does not mean it takes 20 or 22 months to get a decision on your initial claim, nor does it mean that after waiting that long, you will receive a decision on the day of the hearing. This number just refers to the length of time you will need to wait from the time you request a hearing until you actually appear before an administrative law judge (ALJ). Most people need to wait another four or five months after the hearing to obtain a ruling.
Applicants for SSD benefits can request a hearing after an initial claim is denied. Your doctor's paperwork may have been incomplete, your employer may not have confirmed your employment information, or it might have been unclear how your disability prevents you from working. Whatever the reason, denials can come many months after submitting the initial application. This means that the wait time for a hearing must be added onto the time it took for the initial claim to be submitted and then denied. Given this, it is not surprising that people all over the United States die while waiting for a decision for the modest disability benefit provided by SSD.
Even the Best SSD Office Requires Long Wait Times
Even offices with the shortest wait times still require applicants to wait. For example, the SSA office in Fort Smith, Arkansas, reports an average wait time of seven months. This sounds much better than Miami's 22-month wait time, but even seven months plus the waiting time to have the initial claim denied can add up to a year or more. Only two other offices have wait times of less than 10 months: Alexandria, Virginia, and Metairie, Louisiana. When you are disabled and unable to work, even a year is an eternity. How are you supposed to pay the bills?
This does not take into account the time that an applicant must wait to get a decision after a hearing. This also varies considerably. Not surprisingly, the Miami office also has the longest processing time, which is the average number of days an applicant must wait from the time a hearing was requested to getting a decision.
Miami Has the Longest Wait Time for an SSD Hearing
In Miami, the processing time is 729 days, just about two years. Again, that time frame does not take into account the waiting period before the SSD office makes an initial determination, which could be a year or more. It also does not include the statutory wait time before you can receive benefits, which by law cannot begin until five months after you became disabled. All of this means that people in Miami who request hearings could be waiting as long as three years or more, and even then, a benefit award is not guaranteed.
To address the problem in Miami, the SSA is planning to create two more judgeships in that office. However, some wonder whether anyone will want to work there, according to a recent U.S. News & World Report story.
Even in places such as Fort Smith, Arkansas, where the time between requesting a hearing and having the hearing is the lowest in the country, disabled applicants must wait for a decision. People who have been denied SSD benefits should seriously consider having an advocate to help with the hearing, wherever it occurs. Most do not charge a fee unless they win your case, and then they are paid from the retroactive benefits you get for the time spent waiting for a decision.