Rise and Fall in Cases Pending an Administrative Law Judge Hearing: New Actuarial Study

laptop and a judge gavelThe “great recession” that began at the end of 2007 contributed to a rise in initial applications for Social Security disability benefits that peaked in 2010. This surge in initial applications led to a similar rise in appeals for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Because the surge in appeals for a hearing exceeded the capacity to complete hearings quickly, the number of cases that had appealed but were still pending an ALJ determination rose. In fact, the number of disability applicants with an ALJ hearing pending rose up to the end of 2016. However, with the improving economy, declining appeals, hiring more judges, additional funding provided by the Congress to address the hearings backlog in fiscal years 2017 and 2018, and implementation of the Compassionate and Responsive Service (CARES) plan, the number of cases pending an ALJ hearing declined in 2017, and is continuing to decline today.

As the number of claimants pending an ALJ determination rose through 2016, so too did the number of these applicants who died while waiting rise. But with the number of applicants pending a hearing declining in 2017, so too did the number who died while waiting begin to drop. With continued low unemployment, and declining numbers of applicants and appeals to ALJs, we expect the numbers of applicants pending a hearing will continue to drop, as will the number of deaths among those waiting for an ALJ hearing.

In Actuarial Note 159, “Probability of Death While Pending an Administrative Law Judge Determination,” that we are releasing today, we provide the number of applicants pending an ALJ determination and the number of these individuals who died while waiting for each year 2006 through 2017. We also provide the death rate among those pending an ALJ determination on an age-sex adjusted basis, and show that this death rate has changed little, declining slightly over these years.

Finally, we compare the death rate among disability applicants pending an ALJ determination to the death rate of individuals at the same age and sex in the general population, and to the death rate of those individuals who have been determined to be disabled and are in their first 2 years of benefit entitlement. As a consequence of the strict requirements for severe medically determinable impairments, applicants for Social Security disability benefits tend to have higher death rates than the average persons in our population at the same age and sex. While the death rate for applicants pending an ALJ determination is two to three times as high as that for the general population, it is only about one-fourth as high as the death rate for workers who have been awarded disabled worker benefits, in their first two years of benefit entitlement.

Social Security’s Office of the Chief Actuary evaluates trends in demographic, economic, and programmatic experience, including mortality rates, and publishes a variety of regular reports and special studies. The main Social Security Administration website provides links to information about Social Security’s disability benefits programs, including a wealth of information to help you secure today and tomorrow.


54 thoughts on “Rise and Fall in Cases Pending an Administrative Law Judge Hearing: New Actuarial Study

  1. I am a widow and work my husband paid into the system and I can’t collect a widows benefit till I am 60 I should be able to collect upon death a portion of his social security he was already collecting due to retirement I needed that supplement I m sure you don’t care but that is my comment

    • Now you know how a divorced spouse feels…….

      But, you assume as the “oh poor me, I’m a widow” that you should get special treatment.

      Well, sorry, you don’t. If you want to collect a survivor benefit earlier than the age of 60, write your Congressman.

      Did you realize that if you were collecting a survivor benefit that you are also under an earnings limit? For any $2 more than $17,040 in a year period, SSA would withhold $1 in benefits as a penalty.

      So if you’re still working and making $40,000, you probably wouldn’t even get a check, depending on how much your spouse’s record is worth.

      The only thing you are eligible for is the $255 Lump Sum Death Payment at this time.

  2. my daughter had a severe condition of glaucoma. has undergone three surgeries and hadsnt been able to work for the past year and a half, drive or even do low profile housework. her claim was denied and she appealed the decision last October. Still no response. she was the higher provider for her household. How can she be in her right state of mind when she is not receiving any income and has very high costs of co-payments and medication costs. what can we do?????

  3. Part of my work is helping people with the application process for benefits. I have had people whose health issues were severe enough that they passed away either shortly after or before their benefits started. Although some of the problem has been resolved, their biggest issue was not being able to get the health care they needed because they lacked health coverage. I feel that those people are denied because the people making that decision never make their decisions based on what is written on paper. they never actually see what the person goes through daily just to stay alive. Without a clear picture the wrong judgment is often made.

    • I had the same issue when i applied. I was denied because my medical problems were not clearly specified in writing. So when my lawyer did appeal she felt we had a really good case to win. As it so happened the judge we had actually knew about minere’s disease a form of vertigo. One of my medical issues, i had 2 brain surgeries due to it and he said i was lucky that he knew what that was all about. He was going to approve my case but we still had to go through the process which took about 3 hrs. I also had heart issues, seizures and other things that never were really discussed as much.
      Point is he told me the people that make the decision to approve the claims have very strict guidelines they have to follow, after that it goes to the judge.

  4. I have a pending date for ALJ Hearing.
    I am a post Bilateral Total Knee Replacement 2015 and 2016.
    In 2017, I suffered knee instability/severe knee spasms/leg length discrepancy/severe crushing pain on and off/depression/low back pain due to strain of leg length discrepancy. I was denied with my claim twice…
    Eventually, I had Revision Knee Replacement Surgery in May 2,2018… I have a lawyer. I lost my job.
    Please help me get a hearing date soon.
    I am drowning in debt. I have medications.
    I have no health insurance. I have to have multiple PT sessions.
    Please help.
    Memphis, Tennessee 38018

    • The length of time it takes to get a hearing can vary from state to state. We attempt to resolve all claims promptly, but there may be delays due to the volume of pending appeals in your area. Please continue working with your attorney and local hearing office on specific questions about your case.
      While you wait you may want to check and see if you are eligible to receive social services from the state in which you live. These services include Medicaid, free meals, housekeeping help, transportation or help with other problems. You can get information about services in your area from your state or local social services or welfare office. Or you can visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) web page for more information.
      We hope this information helps.

  5. It’s funny you should write this. My cousins widow has been trying since 2010 to get her disability!! Eight years later & she is still in appeal. I guess when she dies she’ll get approved!!! It’s just shameful how ill people are treated!!!

  6. Why would the down-tick in the economy cause a sidnificant rise in these pending cases? Do more people suddenly feel they meet the “strict requirements for severe medically determinable impairments”? How is the cost of studies like this of so many variables justified by SS?
    Who does it benefit? The actuaries?
    Another article this morning in the email update was about the most popular baby names this year? Why is the money needed for SS payments spent on studies like this? Who does it benefit?
    My net increase with the required Medicare Insurance automatically taken out was $11. This is hardly a COLA! And so many are more in need than I am.

  7. A friend of mine husband had been trying to get his Disability for years and the last time he went he was turned down again and he told the judge that he just signed his death. And 3 weeks he passed away from a heart attach. The worst part was he was a truck driver and luckily he was walking around his truck and someone saw him fall down. What If he had been driving when it happened. He could have killed someone else along with him. That shows us that the judge didn’t care about the other people who might have been on the road.

  8. The disabled have to wait so long to get approved for benefits that it’s no wonder that the death rate continues to rise after their appeal is finally approved. It’s absolutely horrible that it takes so long to qualify for benefits. If you are disabled you ought to be able to be awarded benefits quickly. Most people don’t have enough savings to live properly for 6 months to a year or more without income.

    • You may wish to consider how you vote and whether you give your elected officials feedback. Agencies don’t determine their budgets. Congress does. You and everyone else who votes elects them.

      SSA uses about .7% of FICA taxes for operations. Even though you have paid for it, anti-government elected officials determine that .7% is too much to pay for government services. Perhaps they want you to hate the government as a result. If you vote for candidates who want less government the very least you can do is make it clear what gets cut. As soon as the voting is over, these officials ignore you and then listen to the donors instead. If millions were more involved as citizens in HOW the money is spent your priorities may be met and not those of a rich donor instead. If you fall for a campaign pitch that is untrue or distorted then voters are a big part of the problem.

  9. My son was awarded for 2 years that he was totally unemployed from some of the side effects of the meds he is on for psychosis and paranoia. He was state mandated hospitalized for this problem years ago. They got him on the meds but it doesn’t cure the problem and a lot of the time it doesn’t quite work well enough and he misses work from paranoia and when his attorney filed for permanent disability they wouldn’t even take it to the board as my son worked a few hours a week, not even enough to pay rent. He struggles keeping jobs and was only able to work 24 or so hours a work to keep from living on the streets but now all of his relatives can’t afford to help him anymore by providing housing for him. When he was awarded the 2 years his attorney tried to get the judge to make it permanent but she wouldn’t even listen.

  10. You pay Into this system just in case something goes wrong and when it does these judges who have no idea, no sympathy and are corrupt make the decision on your life, what a scam run by unqualified cruel people, they put out all of this info about people scamming to get their own money, the sheeple believe it, make you ashamed to be suffering, tell you to find work, when it’s impossible, our own country steals from us 🖕

  11. Whomever is writing your copy should go back to college and retake English composition and technical writhing. The grammar and syntax in this article are atrocious. Please start to hire folks with some competencies in area of their assignment. Did no one proof this article for editing ?
    Another beleaguered tax payer!!

  12. I am curious, I waited over a year before I was accepted for Social Security Benefits despite have not only a doctors letter of disability, but medical papers of having several birth defects ranging from retinal fibroplasia from being born and placed in a full oxygen incubator for six months, taken out and my eyesight was almost lost. My left hand is deformed from the premature birth.
    13 years ago I applied for disability, waited 1 year and 2 months before I was accepted for social security.
    My sister applied for social security and got a check within 2 weeks AND THEY BACKDATED IT.

    What happened to me?

  13. How many Social Security Retires receive early retirement benefits ? How many Social Security Retires receive normal / full retirement benefits ? How many Social Security Retires receive maximum benefits ?

  14. The increase in disability application is due in part to the extension of unemployment benefits. They could collect unemployment and wait longer to get approved by the SSA. If they couldn’t collect unemployment, then they would be forced to go back to work.

    The longer they are out of the workforce, the less likely they will want to reenter the workforce.

    The lazy person trying to collect unemployment for the maximum amount of time will be looking to social security disability.

  15. First of all thank u for ur valuable time.I will try to make this comment short and to the point.For I can only imagine how busy u r.I first applied for SSDI in November of 2011.Unfortantly I was denied in Feb of 2015 After submitting over 1200 pages of medical evidence.I reapplied in May of 2015.And I still am waiting for a court date.Since 2011 .I have had 3 heart attacks and I also suffer from Spinal stenosis and discs problems,Neuropathy,and some mental issues.That r all documented.I have been homeless since 2012 and have lived on 221.00 And 192.00 since I have applied back in 2011.I have at least 1 of the qualifying impairments under SSA.Which is Ishemic heart disease as well as Coronary heart disease.Sir I implore you if there is anything that can be done to speed up my application it would be greatly appreciated.Once again thank you for your valuable time.And may the LORD bless u and ur family. Regards Mr.David Delgado

  16. Huh? Yeah, that was my reaction when I was told you can get paid good money to use Facebook. But I checked it out and I loved what I found.

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    This is definitely one that is worth further investigation. Why not get paid for using the skills you already have?

  18. if and when you live near SSa and it’s near a train station.(mostly on eastern US)you probably have to take extra steps.i am from brevard florida.i go to one office and it’s near US1.in jersey several offices to choose from, with a short drive and a bus,this doesn’t mean they are all good.i am in richmond and didn’t get paid and in two offices!it’s thursday and i’m a green beret marine who reports my earnings to them and put my best foot forward.

  19. It is very reassuring to know that the Government is so Greedy. The hardworking citizens who truly have disabilities and have worked and paid into the system, are told that if they become disabled now the benefit amount they would receive. Unfortunately, they neglected to inform us that you have a 99.9% rate of being declined of your benefits, and come to find out I am personally on the statistics list of the 10,000 people per year that do not make it waiting for their rightfully earned Disability Benefits. I would like to know why Social Security Administration sent me to their Doctors to be checked. I was stunned to find out that, the Social Security Doctors did not address one of the issues that I was trying to get my benefits for. If the tax paying citizens are paying for the service that I received. I clearly see why the medical industry is making a killing. The Doctors DO NOT CARE. Why would you give a physical to a patient who has been diagnosed with a FATAL AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE. Neither Social Security Doctor would even listen to me or look at the photos as well as look at my skin, and all of the other places on my body that have been suffering for 3 years. I fractured my foot which I never stated was a disability that would have anything to do with my Social Security Disability Case. I was denied with a letter stating that a Fractured Foot would not prevent me from working for 12 months. I have no idea why my foot was even a issue. I applied for my Social Security Disability Benefits due to a Fatal Autoimmune Disease. That office visit was not only a waste of my time but a complete waste of money to whomever is responsible for the payment to a useless Doctor visit initiated and required by the Social Security Administration. They waste the tax paying citizens money and continue to let the Government Pocket Our hard earned benefit payment funds so that they can capitalize. I have been waiting and waiting for my benefits, I am spoken to like a FIRST CLASS BEGGER WHO IS NO LONGER OF WORTH. From bringing in 6 figures for over 30 years I can not rely on the system that I paid into to help me in a diar time of need. I am disgusted by this system. Then I am told to contact my Congressmen’s office in the 33rd District Ted Lieu. This office was again a complete waste of my time and energy. Ted Lieu our Congressman could care a less about the citizens. He gets all of the Government Perks and Benefits PAID BY US TAX PAYING CITIZENS. This office was completely useless on top of that I was denied the name of the Supervisor I had to contact in Washington DC. I really thought I would receive some type of assistance but again not one thing Ted Lieu’s office could do. I have not worked since 8/2015 and have depleted all of my resources. I have exceeded the one year that I have not been able to work and I still have to wait. On top of that come to find out I was being treated by a Doctor that DID NOT HAVE A ACTIVE MEDICAL LICENSE. This person calling themselves a Doctor was actually convicted of wrong doings to patient not one time but several. He has had his Medical License Revoked, his office billed my insurance company in the amount of $2488.00 in medical services that I never received they were paid in full. I contact the Medical Board and they tell me they do not have the resources to make sure all Doctors have active Medical License. I am on Medi-Cal of which us tax paying citizens are taxed for. The system commits FRAUD and no one cares. As long as the Employees for the Government are being paid they have absolutely no care in the world about the Citizens who pay their salaries as well as the Citizens that voted and put Ted Lieu as Congressmen. I an sickened by this system. It only goes to show that the Government is designed to lie, cheat and steal from the United Staes Citizens. I have been disabled and now my face is disfigured due to a neglect Medi-Cal Doctor who is still practicing as of now. Our system is a joke. It is all about how much money the Government Employees as well as the Phony Government Officials that we voted for and put them in a position to continue to take advantage of the Citizens. I can personally say I reached out to Congressmen’s Ted Lieu’s office of the 33rd District and was told that there is nothing they can do to help me. Then I see Ted Lieu on TV with his face makeup and fancy lighting equipment to enhance his appearance . Let’s keep it real, oops I forgot the Government is a LEGAL MOPHIA. The Government workers and politicians are always getting caught with their hands in the cookie jar. This experience is a loud and clear message that as I have believed all along is really a Publicized Comic Show. I am stunned by all of the Government employees that I have spoken with who do not know anything and certainly can not even provide the proper answer/information to a question. They are all jokes. Please be ware the system DOES NOT CARE ABOUT YOU. Make sure you find a way to provide or yourself before you become one of the 10,000 statistics per yer.

  20. Disabilities is about we can’t work.but retirement is about people who working and pay social security from earning income that my understanding its two different claims.

    • Yes, Lesly! We pay disability benefits to individuals who cannot longer work because of a medical condition that will last at least a year or resulting in death. When it comes to qualifying for disability benefits under the Social Security Disability Insurance program (SSDI), you must be “currently insured” or have worked long enough–and recently enough—under Social Security.
      The earliest age a person can apply for retirement benefits is 62. You need 40 credits (generally 10 years of work and paying into Social Security) to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits.
      See Insured Status Requirements for more information. Thanks!

  21. I want I know why my son and I are Disabled. He is 15 with SMA SPINAL MUSCULAR ATROPHY from birth. He gets denied all benefits, he needs a Handicap Van and it seems like no one in Government can answer or give you the Dept no one knows nothing. Social Security states he is entitled to PASS transition to work he can have Section 1915 or Section 1115, everybody plays dumb when you call them. Same Dept HHS WITH THE GRANTS HE AND I ARE ENTITLED TO. Why did they say I can’t get the SSI extra help for Low Income when your website says I am eligible. I am low income. I need to start suing people for discrimination for Housing and the HUD DEPT. Medicaid has all over the web about there Waiver 1915 you call them, they don’t have a clue who III need to talk to. They need to be educated and organized. It’s pure laziness or they are dumb or there needs to be continuous education if you are working especially with Disabled people that needs the help and you have employees that don’t Know there job. This is what I have paid taxes in since I was 16 years old and I am 56 and paid there salary for years and can’t get a answer. Come on now. My son has suffered because of stupid people and yes I am pissed. He has missed out on life because of ignorant people that sit behind a desk sucking up the benefits of the Government. My son is a MINORITY AS HE IS WHITE BUT A MINORITY AND HE HAS RIGHTS TOO. CIVIL, HUMAN, DISABILITY should I go on. 11 years in school and he gets ripped off. Taking advantage of Disability Children, it’s a disgrace these children have to suffer more because of no housing for them or benefits. Give it all to the seniors, elderly and veterans. The Children are the future not the past. If you don’t take care of these bright and intelligent Children just because he can’t walk he has a brain. You deny him a chance at life and living and this is my money I worked hard for not yours and not the Employees. So stop playing GOD WITH MY MONEY AND WHAT RIGHTFULLY BELONGS TO US. THIS IS NOT RUSSIA WE ARE NOT COMMUNIST COUNTRY SO STOP MAKING DEMANDS. SMOKING CIGARETTES YOU TELL US WHAT TO DO, NOW ITS THE PAIN PILLS I NEED MY MEDICINES YOU ARE NOT KILLING ME AND I AM NOT LIVING IN CHRONIC PAIN OR MY SON, Because the doctors started all of this to begin with feeding there patients for the money and to rip off insurance companies and Medicaid Medicare. We are not stupid and the doctors are on the Drugs. So they open up a Suboxone Clinic to get there money that way. That’s the worst drug to come off of.vi heard the withdrawal system are horrible worst then opioid. Get Educated Government before you start running your mouths and putting demands on and using the law. Let’s Drug Test the Doctors to see if they are capable of treating us. I don’t trust them because they don’t Know my disease and they are killing me slowly taking away very important medication that I need for Lupus fibromyalgia neuropathy Osteoarthritis Rheumatoid arthritis and COPD should I tell you more and you want me to suffer. Hell no…

  22. It’s been 8 months today since my judge’s hearing (3 years since my date of disability). The first thing I do everyday is go online and see the same “pending.” My lawyer was able to find out from the judge’s office that it went into “decision writing” May 1st. 74 days ago.

    I am living on credit cards and trying to get a little part time work done through the pain of multiple conditions. Both the vocational expert or doctor at hearing agreed I couldn’t work full time again. The judge told me she’d have it finished in 30-90 days. The only issue was my date of disability. That was December 31, 2017.

    If anyone thinks this process is easy, it’s not. I wish I could just work full time. The waiting times have just gotten worse — even though I had a video hearing.

    • We apologize for the long wait, Marcia. Many claims are randomly selected for a quality assurance review of the decision. We attempt to resolve all claims promptly, but there may be delays due to the volume of pending claims in your area.
      Please continue working with your attorney and local hearing office on specific questions about your case. Thanks!

      • I am in the same situation, waiting for the decision. It been over a year since the hearing. My attorney wont even come to the phone, she has her secretary tell me sorry nothing new. Its not like i call her continuosly. I have called ssa andd the adjuciary hearing something. I dont recall the full name of where the ssa told me to call, but all they sqid was they can ask them to speed it up. I hace trouble getting my medications. I have no income. (,sorry for typos, usually i have my daughter type in for me. My eyesight is bad and my hands are sore. )

        • Hello Ronda. The length of time it takes to get a formal decision after a hearing can vary from state to state. We attempt to resolve all claims promptly, but there may be delays due to the volume of pending appeals in your area. Please continue working with your local hearing office on specific questions about your case. Thank you.

      • Attempting to ….”work with the hearings office” as you suggest my husband had those cruel people report him to the Dept.of Homeland Security…. The agent sheepishly explained to him….and I quote : ” I have listened to the telephone recordings…..You did not threaten anyone…..but I gotta follow up on all such reports…”
        Those folks at the hearings office are all attorneys…..or judges….they knew that his emotional nature did not meet the standards of any form of threat to persons or property…..Yet they called Homeland Security on him….anyway…
        It is another in a long pattern of harassment…..intimidation…discrimination…..abuse….and bullying.

  23. I want to emphasize that SSA should set an example for all governent agencies in the principle of BY THE PEOPLE and FOR THE PEOPLE. Are reviewers of these comments in a position to change and correct any of the issues discussed here? Can a Public Relations Specialist effect changes in the rules? I want to believe the best in SSA workers and that many are heartbroken because of what they can not do for clients.
    There are many areas to fund better SSA benefits. Tariffs are collected increasingly on imports, we leave valuable military equipment or destroy that equipment in foreign lands, We have agencies that spend money on upgrades or maintainence only to have that item sold for pennies on the dollar or destroyed shortly afterward.
    Perhaps for all the education the controllers have accumulated they can not handle money as well as the clients they serve. Poverty teaches efficient use of funds. Having to make a choice between food, medicine, and rent is an education most Administrators do not have as it is not a credential for the job.
    SSA is necessary and it has been in place for decades, but it has always been funded by the PONZI scheme requiring an every increasing number of new workers to fund retirement benefits for the older people and survivors. You would think that these shortcomings would have been worked out by now.

  24. I have to disagree with the story about the wait list for a judge to make a decision. I have been over 130 days for a judge to make a decision about my hearing. I have been online and seen several other people who have been waiting two years for a judge to make a decision. I don’t believe whoever wrote the article used real facts. Looks more like a small amount of people were polled and the numbers were inflated to look good.

  25. is any being charge overpayment ..im being charge for money i never recieved im trying to fight it since 2004 back then it never hit me or wasnt really clear on why was i getting charged till now and im waiting for a AJL but its taking to long to get my date to see one they withhold all my tax returns since 2006 so i already paid 20000 of the 29000 that i was being charged owing $10000 left and just this year after finally talking to someone she asked me if i cashed all the check that i was getting thats when i knew that i never got any checks after that she cut the conversation short and didnt want to go any further and ended the call so know they owe me 20000 back and they are starting to take their sweet time in getting the information i need and they say they cant go back pass 7 years to get any information of the checks that where being send

  26. So my husband’s original filing was in 2014. After various rulings and appeal processes, we are now waiting for the final appeals process ruling. Sent for final appeal process Aug 2017. It is now Jan 2019. When calling our lawyer to receive updates they report “no ruling has been issued”, when they bother to return our calls. When calling SS to receive updates we spend up to 4 hours on the phone waiting, only to receive the same answer. Isn’t there or shouldn’t there be a time limit imposed on the system just as those in criminal cases? Come on, its been 1.5 years in the appeals process. How is this showing that cases are being processed quicker due to a decline in applications? Thank goodness we still have my income to fall back on or we would be homeless.

  27. Today, on March 11, 2019, I applied 3 months in advance for Social Security Benefits and am still confused about what I was told about “Protective Filing”. Please send me information or a site lead on “Protective Filing” and “Dual Entitlement” for married retirees. I was born 6/22/1949 and my husband was born 4/25/1951.

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