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

May 24, 2018 • By

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Last Updated: May 24, 2018

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.

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About the Author

Stephen C. Goss, Chief Actuary

Stephen C. Goss, Chief Actuary


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  7. Patricia T.

    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.

  8. Katie

    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.

  9. MARQ

    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


    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.

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