Other than some SSA bureaucrats who claim that they are “efficient,” no one likes video hearings. Not the ALJs, not the experts, not the attorneys, least of all the claimants. Claimants generally like the opportunity to tell their stories to ALJs in person, but claimants generally do not find the same satisfaction with video hearings.
To overcome this resistance, SSA tries to encourage claimants to accept video hearings by sending a brochure that explains the advantages of having a video hearing. It is a short brochure, and it tells you, “Except for the equipment, a video hearing is no different than a hearing at which you appear in person.”
The trouble with this statement is that the video equipment fundamentally changes the nature of the interaction between the claimant and the ALJ. Instead of being in person, immediate and three dimensional, the hearing is remote and two dimensional. The single advantage of a video hearing is that the claimant may get the hearing sooner.
One of the Social Security regulations provides that if you object to appearing by video then the ALJ will find your wish not to appear by video teleconferencing to be a good reason for changing the time or place of hearing and will reschedule the hearing for a time and place at which you may make your appearance in person. Thus, you have veto power over your own appearance by video.
However, the same is not true for appearance by an expert. While your “wish” not to appear by video constitutes good cause for appearing in person, the regulation provides no such good cause when a claimant doesn’t want an expert to appear by video. Furthermore, the regulation contains no example of what would constitute good cause for having an expert witness appear in person rather than by video. Thus, it looks like an ALJ will grant a request that an expert appear in person only in rare circumstances.
In a typical video hearing where the ALJ is in one location and the claimant is in another, sometimes an ALJ will use an expert who is in the same location as the ALJ. Other times the expert will be in the same location as the claimant. There are hearings in which only the expert appears by video. There have also been hearings in which only the claimant’s attorney appears by video. Who is allowed to appear by video is left to the discretion of the ALJ.
If a good ALJ is assigned to your case for a video hearing, requesting that you appear in person before the ALJ runs the risk that your case will be reassigned to a different ALJ.
Whether or not requesting an in-person hearing might cause the case to be reassigned to a different ALJ, it will certainly cause a significant delay in scheduling the hearing.
Video hearings also present logistical problems for your lawyer in getting a copy of the entire paper hearing exhibit file early enough for your lawyer to obtain and submit new evidence and develop the issues in time for the scheduled hearing.
Additional problems arise on the day of the hearing because the hearing exhibit file is with the ALJ. Your lawyer will have no opportunity to review hearing exhibits just before the hearing. Since last minute review of a paper hearing exhibit file is impossible with a video hearing your attorney may ask that an updated exhibit list and any new exhibits submitted by SSA since the time he copied the file be faxed a day or so before the hearing.
Know that the ALJ may very well be able to hear everything being said in the hearing room where you are. Do not say anything in the hearing room before the hearing starts or after the hearing ends..