Two years is the average time in Maine for a Social Security disability or SSI claim to get from an initial claim to an ALJ decision.
From the day you apply for disability benefits, the initial claim process takes 4 to 6 months. If your claim is denied (as 2 out of 3 are, on average), the Reconsideration determination can take another 6 months.
The Reconsideration step is particularly slow these days, due to backlogs at the Maine DDS (the state agency that makes the determinations at the initial and reconsideration levels). At Reconsideration, 85% of claims are denied again, and the next step is to request a hearing by a U.S. administrative law judge (ALJ). In Maine, the average processing time at the hearing level is almost 12 months.
So from start to finish, the better part of two years goes by.
Since being disabled means you can't work, that is two years with no income. Two years of financial stress. Two years of doctor visits trying to find money for the copays (if there is insurance at all). For many claimants, it means two more years of chronic pain. And for all claimants, two years of having to cope with the fact that you can't do what you used to do. It is a difficult road, and I am amazed how claimants manage during this difficult time.
At my law office, we try to speed cases along. We always appeal right away, so no time is lost. We try to get favorable determinations at the DDS level, when possible. At the hearing level, we ask for an on the record request when appropriate. But the fact is, for the majority of claims, a hearing is still required. So two years goes by.
Often we can use that time to the claimant's advantage. As more medical records are generated during the waiting period, it often becomes more apparent that a claimant's impairments are more serious than originally thought. During this time we try to get medical source statements from your treating sources that describe your functional limitations. All this is important evidence for the hearing. So if we cannot get your claim resolved without a hearing, we will certainly make your claim stronger for the day the hearing arrives.
Two years is a long time. Don't go it alone.