The Use of Video Teleconferencing for Hearings in Social Security Disability Cases

The Social Security Administration has an entire brochure dedicated to the reason why an applicant for disability should have a video teleconference (VTC) hearing. See https://www.ssa.gov/appeals/odar_pubs/70-067.pdf. A video teleconference hearing is one where the judge remains in his or her office in one city while you, and your attorney if you represented, are in another city communicating with one another through state of the art teleconferencing monitors and equipment. Social Security claims your agreement to have a VTC hearing in lieu of a live hearing is much more convenient and may shorten your wait time for a hearing.

Prior to scheduling your hearing, Social Security will send you a letter notifying you that your hearing may be scheduled by VTC. This notice letter will provide you the opportunity to object to appearing by video. Under current Social Security regulations, there is still the right to insist on a live hearing with your Social Security judge. However, if you do not object, it is likely your hearing will be set to take place at the closest Social Security District office with VTC capability.

Implementing the VTC system has led to some elements of streamlining and expediting the wait for Social Security Disability hearings, and Social Security Administration continues to expand the use of remote video hearings before Administrative Law Judges. While having a quicker hearing at a more convenient location sounds like a good idea all around, there can be downsides to consider. Many argue, that without the ability of the Judge to physically observe and asses the claimant, the probability increases that the decision will be unfavorable. This argument may be stronger or weaker depending on the type of condition being explained to the judge. Also, having a VTC means that a Social Security Disability claimant living in North Florida may have his or her case heard by an Administrative Law Judge in Nashville, Tennessee or anywhere else. More local judges know the reputations of doctors and facilities and attorneys involved in the system, and having a judge from outside the area that does not recognize the reputations, both good and bad, of those in the system can have a profound impact on the outcome of the claimant’s case. The advantages and disadvantages of VTC over live hearings must really be assessed on a case by case basis.

The final rules on VTC published June 25, 2014 allow for a claimant to object to appearing at a hearing via teleconferencing, or to object to the time and place of a hearing. These rules provide that prior to scheduling a hearing, SSA must notify the claimant that it may schedule the appearance at a hearing by VTC, and the claimant will have 30 days after receiving notice of the teleconferencing to object and request an in-person hearing with a Judge. In the event that the claimant relocates to another State or jurisdiction, prior to the hearing, the Judge will decide how the claimant will appear, including via video conferencing. Because of the difference in allowance rates between judge’s offices, the Social Security Administration is clearly concerned that some claimants may report a change in residence in order to fall under the jurisdiction of a more favorable judge’s office. If a claimant did not object to a video hearing and then moves to a location that falls under the jurisdiction of another hearing office, the case will generally not be transferred to anew hearing office. Instead, the ALJ is likely to schedule a video hearing and retain “jurisdiction” over the claimant who has relocated.

If you, or someone you love, are applying for disability benefits through Social Security, there are a number of decisions that have to be made before attending your hearing. Whether to have a VTC or insist on a live judge is just one of these decision that should be discussed with an

experienced attorney familiar with the evidence that will be needed to support your claim. Feel free to contact the disability attorneys of Syfrett, Dykes & Furr for a free consultation at (850) 795-4979.

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