A video hearing may provide a faster hearing date, but it can be a grave mistake to go this route
The Social Security Administration has been grappling with the problem of Hearing wait times for many years. In the past, disability Hearings were always conducted with an in-person Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). But the combination of long Hearing wait times and the availability of video technology resulted in SSA opening five National Hearing Centers. These National Hearing Centers are the home to judges who conduct Video Teleconference (VTC) Hearings. Think of it like a factory of judges. These judges are connected via video link to Offices of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) and Field Offices throughout the country and conduct Hearings via video. The objective of this arrangement is to enable Hearings to be scheduled faster, thereby helping reduce the Hearings backlog as well as to save money because these “video judges” do not incur travel expenses.
So, should you agree to have your Hearing conducted by a video judge? At Quikaid, our objective is to get our clients’ disability claims approved. So we look critically at the issue of “video judge” vs. “live judge” and we have concluded the following:
(1) Our win rate is approximately 5% higher with live judges than with video judges. This might not seem like a big difference, but it is. Every bit we can move the needle toward a favorable outcome matters. And 5% increased chance matters.
(2) We believe this increased win rate is attributable to the fact that a judge thousands of miles away is basically less personal than someone who is 10 feet away. They don’t see you entering the office, there are fewer off-the-record discussions (so they don’t get to know you as well), and it is easier to deny someone you have not actually been in the same room with;
(3) Video Hearings can be scheduled more quickly, but not significantly so. In our estimation, video Hearings are scheduled on average approximately 1-2 months faster than a Hearing with a live judge. This trade-off is simply not worth it. You have already waited in many cases close to two years. So, do you want to be denied sooner, or approved later? We think the latter makes sense.
(4) You have the absolute right to demand an in-person Hearing with a disability judge. Generally speaking, you should exercise that right! However, there are situations in which having a VTC or video judge makes sense. For example, if you live in Texas, which has a notoriously low approval rate, and you are scheduled for a VTC Hearing, you should understand the statistical reality of the Texas ALJs vs. the video ALJs, and plan accordingly.
(5) The technology associated with video hearings is impressive – when it works. We have had clients subjected to delays of nearly an entire day as the National Hearings Center and the local ODAR office work to correct a technology issue that brought down the link between the two locations. This makes an already stressful Hearings day even more stressful. Also, the audio and video quality varies significantly from one location to the next. Lastly, some judges hide behind their monitors so you cannot even see them. They literally peek around their monitor when they want to say something – and some don’t even do that!
(6) Social Security is not good at communicating what your rights are and how to exercise them! The process of how to demand an in-person judge has changed more times than we can remember. And, if you do not follow their current protocol, you may lose the right to an in-person judge and this can have a seriously negative impact on your claim.
If you are awaiting a Hearing with an Administrative Law Judge, the steps you take (or fail to take) during this waiting time can be the difference between being awarded benefits and being denied. You should consider professional representation if you do not already have it. We would be happy to discuss with you the merits of having a Hearing with a live judge – and how to ensure you get one. Contact us now for a free case evaluation.