If an individual is initially denied Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) through the standard first or second review processes with the Social Security Administration (SSA) and wishes to continue pursuing disability benefits, he or she will be required to participate in an appeal hearing with an administrative law judge presiding.
In the past, all hearings took place in-person, with the SSDI applicant being required to make an appearance in an administrative law court in order to present their case for appeal. More recently, however, video hearings have been on the rise, and 2011 saw the highest percentage yet of SSDI hearings conducted by remote video conferencing. There are a number of reasons for the increase, including the availability of new technologies as well as the increased workload and decreased resources of the SSA.
Video Hearing Rates
According to the SSA, appeal hearings for SSDI conducted via video conference during 2011 totaled 129,775 – that’s an increase of more than 9,000 from 2010. The SSA intends to use video conferencing hearings even more often in the future, projecting the number of cases for 2012 which will be conducted in this manner to hit about 140,000.
How the Video Hearing Takes Place
The environment of the hearing is the only major difference in how video hearings take place as opposed to traditional in-person court room appearances. The individual appealing a denial of SSDI benefits must still appear before the administrative law judge to present their argument. In a video conference hearing, the applicant may simply be in another location, like a conference room at a local courthouse for example, while the judge is in another city at his or her regular base of operations or at another location in which hearings are conducted within the region the judge covers.
The entire proceeding takes place with the use of video conferencing technologies which allow all the individuals participating in the legal review to hear and see one another clearly, including the applicant, his or her attorney, and the admin law judge, as well as any witnesses who may be called on the behalf of the applicant, like a medical practitioner or a spouse. Also present will be the court recorder, and medical and/or vocational expert under commission with the SSA.
Reasons for the Increase in Video Hearings
There are several reasons for the increase in video hearings. First and foremost is the ability to take advantage of contemporary technology to reduce expenses and increase efficiency. The SSA is under financial crisis, with many concerns about how old age and disability benefits will be funded moving forward. These concerns drive the need for decreasing expenses associated with administration of benefits, including travel expenditures incurred in the course of judges going from one location to another to conduct hearings.
There are also a limited number of administrative law judges available to hear an ever increasing backlog of Social Security Disability appeals cases. By using video conferencing technology and eliminating the time involved to conduct hearings, the SSA believes it can shorten the weight time for hearings and decrease the backlog of cases in the process.