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Why Should I Have My Administrative Hearing by Video?

If your Social Security disability claim has brought you to a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, or ALJ, you may use technology to your advantage.

An alternative to an in-person hearing appearance the Social Security Administration offers is to appear before an ALJ through a videoconference link. This could greatly reduce your travel time to your hearing, and get it scheduled much faster. With a videoconference, you could appear closer to your home and it could make it more convenient for people testifying on your behalf to appear.

During a videoconference hearing, the ALJ remains in their office, and the hearing is conducted over a secure Internet connection. Both sides view each other on large color video monitors. A government hired technician is responsible for setting up and maintaining the link. If the Social Security Administration (SSA) has videoconference equipment in your area, you’ll be contacted to schedule a time, and the ALJ will allow you the opportunity to reject the time and place and request another time and venue. Video hearings are beneficial to the ALJ and their office because it cuts down on their travel burden and allows an ALJ to conduct hearings with more people over a wider area more efficiently.

The only difference between a video hearing and a typical one is you are in one conference room and the ALJ is in their office, sometimes hundreds of miles away. Through the video link, the ALJ is able to see, hear and observe in real time, as if they were in the room with you. The ALJ has remote control of the camera, allowing them to zoom in and out of the room and view the proceedings from different angles of view.

The SSA, like many governmental agencies, has been a victim of budget cuts and backlogs. Underfunding and understaffing have resulted in an increasingly difficult ability to handle pending disability claims, which reached an all-time high of 768,540 in december 2008, according to government statistics. Since then, there have been an average of 760,000 claims processed annually, government statistics show. In 2009 the SSA got the funding to hire 147 ALJs and over 1,000 support staff. Their numbers increased in 2010 with additional funding, with an additional 226 Administrative Law Judges sworn in. A National Hearing Center was established in 2010 as well, to handle electronic files and oversee the videoconference hearings.

Although convenient and time saving, videoconference hearings aren’t for everyone. People have written first-hand accounts on disability blogs they feel the video hearings are impersonal and they are uncomfortable with the technology. Talking to a judge on a video monitor is unsettling for some. Some attorneys complain of unfamiliarity of the ALJs because they don’t preside locally. Knowing a judge’s personality and ruling history helps them present stronger cases, they say.

You are not required to accept a video hearing, but if you refuse, expect to add one to three months -- by average -- to the process, experts say.