This is a very troublesome problem. Some parts of the country have more or less pending claims than others. There are more ALJ’s in some hearing offices than others and they cannot be easily moved. There tends to be more claims when the economy is worse. SSA has created several National Hearing Centers and doing hearings with these ALJ’s by video or by having ALJ’s in areas where the wait is not bad to travel to offices where the wait is much longer to hear cases for a week or two. These steps have not significantly solved the problem. The delay between Request for Hearing and hearing day has always been an issue, even in 1976 when I started working for SSA. The number of cases waiting for a hearing is likely at or near an all time high.
SSA has taken other steps to expedite decision for certain medical problems, called “compassionate allowances”, that are likely to result in death. They also expedite “TERI” claims for people who are dying, but the impairment is not typically terminal. These, too, are not long term solutions and do not apply, thankfully, to the majority of claimants.
SSA’s problem, admittedly, is that deciding who is in dire need, financially, is as equally a subjective judgement, as who is “disabled”. SSA does not solve problems when it adds another subjective layer to an already “subjective” conclusion as to how depressed or how bad someone’s pain is. There are a finite number of ALJ’s, hearing rooms, clerical staff to schedule the hearing, and the hearing slots. If John Doe gets an expedited hearing, Mary Smith has her hearing delayed for another month. Why is Mary Smith delayed if her medical and financial problems similar to John Doe. I have heard from SSA that as many as two thirds of all claimants request dire need. They simply cannot expedite hearings for that many claimants, especially now when they have to give 75 days written notice of a hearing. It used to be 20 days. You can waive this notice period but it is dangerous if you don’t have all of your medical ducks in a row.
Generally, dire need will be found for people who are actually homeless. Threatened foreclosure, eviction, etc., is not enough. I have had some degree of success arguing that for claimants who will shortly lose health insurance on the expiration of COBRA, their health will suffer irreparably if they cannot get certain drugs, infusions, chemotherapies, this equals dire need. SSA will also expedite the hearings for disabled veterans (Wounded Warriors project). Keep in mind that merely getting an expedited hearing does not always equate with a favorable decision. Sometimes, a claimant received a faster denial, but each case is unique.