October 20, 2014

Social Security Administration’s Disability Hearings By Video

With a backlog of pending disability cases in Indiana and across the country, many people have received notices informing them their Social Security disability hearing might be held by video teleconference.  You have the opportunity to object to the use of video teleconferencing; if you do Social Security must arrange a hearing for you in which you meet the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) face-to-face.  There are various factors to consider in deciding whether or not to object to a video hearing.

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The pros to having an in-person hearing:

  • You are in the same room as the ALJ.  It is possible that in person, the ALJ can better observe your physical and mental condition.   The ALJ can observe you entering and exiting the courtroom; if you use an assistive device the judge will be able to see it.  Further, in-person hearings may allow participants to observe facial expressions and body language the video screen may not be able to portray as clearly.
  • Local ALJs are more likely to know about the local healthcare system.  When a judge who lives five states away looks at your medical records, he or she may not recognize your medical providers or even know what type of doctors they are.  A local ALJ is also more likely to know if it is difficult to access free or reduced-cost healthcare in your community.  In my experience, a local judge probably has seen records from the same local healthcare providers on numerous occasions and understands the quality and quantity of healthcare available at those facilities.
  • Expert witnesses are more likely to appear in person as well.   If a judge takes testimony from a Medical Expert (ME), the ME typically appears either by telephone or in the ALJ’s courtroom.  The ME at your hearing has never seen you in person; he or she has only reviewed your medical records in Social Security’s file.  If you have an in-person hearing, there is no guarantee the ME will testify in person, but at least it is a possibility.  If the ME appears in person at your hearing, he or she will at least be able to see you walk into the courtroom and physically observe you.  At some hearings, MEs may even be able to ask you questions face to face.  Even though this personal interaction is no substitute for an actual medical examination, it may at least give the ME a clearer idea of your situation.  I have talked to Medical Experts who have told me that hearing a claimant’s testimony in person has, in some situations, changed their opinions about the severity of the claimant’s disability.

The cons to having an in-person hearing:

  • It may take longer for your hearing to be scheduled.  Since objecting to a video hearing reduces the pool of ALJs available to hear your case, you may have to wait longer before your hearing is scheduled.  Some of my clients have been hit so hard financially by their inability to work that they will take video hearings if it means they can get their day in court sooner.

In the end, it is your choice whether you want to ensure you have an in-person hearing or not.  The facts in each person’s case are different.  An attorney or qualified representative familiar with the Social Security hearing office in your region can help you make informed decisions about all aspects of your disability case.

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