In a perfect world, a disabled worker would apply for Social Security Disability benefits and be approved for those benefits in just a few short months. Unfortunately, this is usually not the case. Estimates state that a mere 30 percent of disability claims are awarded during the initial stage of the application process. The remaining 70 percent of disability applicants must appeal the SSA's decision to deny their Social Security Disability benefits if they hope to receive disability payments at some point in the future. As those who have gone through the process know, appealing a denial of Social Security Disability benefits is an overwhelmingly lengthy endeavor. It takes some applicants more than two years before they will see the first disability payment.
Why does it take so long for a Social Security Disability applicant to appeal a denied Social Security Disability claim? The reason is mainly due to the fact that there are so many cases backlogged in the Social Security system. The majority of disability appeals will involve a disability hearing before an administrative law judge, and there are only 1,500 judges working for the Social Security Administration. Each judge can handle only so many cases per month. The Social Security Administration had made plans to open more appeal centers in order to address its backlog of disability appeals, but budget cuts put a halt to those efforts. Technology, however, may be able to pick up the slack.
The Social Security Administration is now using video hearings to move more cases through the Social Security system and decrease the number of cases that are now backlogged. Since June 2008, the number of backlogged Social Security Disability appeals has not dropped below 760,000. Hopefully, video hearings will be able to bring that number much lower.
The Social Security Administration has created a National Hearing Center that now handles electronic files and allows Social Security Disability claimants to handle their disability hearings via video conference. These video hearings allow the administrative law judge to remain in his or her office while the applicant goes to a site that is conveniently located closer to the applicant’s home address. These video hearings allow the administrative law judges who work for the SSA to balance their workload more efficiently, thereby reducing the number of backlogged Social Security Disability cases.
A video hearing is very similar to an in-person hearing, as the judge can see and speak with the applicant as well as the attorney and/or witnesses through a video monitor. Further, video hearings can be scheduled much sooner than in-person hearings and are often located more conveniently for the Social Security Disability applicant. In some cases, the video hearing may even be conducted from the comfort of the applicant's own home. For those who suffer from severe disabilities, this is a significant improvement in the appeal process.
Just how well these video hearings will work in reducing the number of Social Security Disability claims that are backlogged in the system is yet to be seen. It is certain, however, that the video hearing technology is making the appeal process much easier for those with severe disabilities and is also making it possible to obtain a hearing date sooner.