There is some hints of slight improvement in the current disability hearing backlog. Recent statistics show that the average "case processing" time fell for October to December of last year, but is still at 479 days. The number of pending cases dropped from an all time high in December of 2008. Still, the number of pending cases has not dropped below 760,000 since June of last year.
Hearing requests have increased 10% for fiscal year 2009. Some attribute this to a downturn in the economy, although I have not seen any reliable statistics to back that up. I suspect is it more likely due to the overall aging population. This increased hearing request trend is likely to continue because new applications are up 11% at state DDS (disability determination service).
Compared to last year, there are 90 new ALJs, and these new judges are starting to meet their target caseloads. ALJ productivity is increasing, and some attribute this to senior attorney involvement. Senior attorneys will make recommendations to ALJ's on pending cases, which is a great tool for cases that have sufficient evidence to make a disability determination.
With hearings offices pulling more cases, ALJs conducting more hearings, and attorney advisors reviewing cases, the backlog seems to have hit a bottleneck with Decision writing. It's taking longer to get the Decisions out, which makes sense. However, it shows a real effort to get things moving again.
On a local level, I notice some changes. The Portland ODAR is contacting our well in advance to set hearing dates, and is asking for my available hearing dates for the next three or four months. This is promising.