Many of my clients are looking for guidance as to whether they should object to a telephone or video hearing should they have to appear in front of an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") for a Social Security Disability Insurance "(SSDI") and/or Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") hearing. It is an excellent question and I think that many attorneys have different views on the matter.
I want to give you my personal opinion on the subject. Keep in mind, I am currently only practicing in California (I used to practice all over the Western US) and that my firm is located in Long Beach. I wanted to clarify my location because I might feel differently about the issue if I practiced in less populated states like Maine or Vermont. However, the California Office of Hearings Operations ("OHO") are currently running over 400 days behind. Apparently, long hearing waiting periods come along with our hefty "sunshine tax."
You may be asking yourself, "What is a OHO?" The OHOs are responsible for assigning ALJs to hear claimants' cases at the third stage of the SSDI/SSI process. By the time a claimant requests a hearing, the claimant has already been denied at the initial application and reconsideration levels, stages that can take a combined one year to 18 months to go through.
The California OHOs have made it clear to my office that if we demand an in-person hearing, we will likely be adding up to an additional 200 days of waiting to the already lengthy waiting period for a hearing. This is because not every ALJ is back working at the OHOs due to the pandemic. Many are still working remotely and will remain working remotely for the indefinite future. Additionally, I have been told that scheduling is "easier" on the scheduling units when we agree to virtual hearings. This is due to the fact ALJs and experts have more openings in their schedules when they are working from home. It is essentially easier to find more common time slots in which all parties are available for the hearings.
I certainly can attest to the fact that my phone and video hearings do seem to get scheduled about four to six months faster than in-person hearings. I also have found that the ALJs are granting as many cases virtually as they do at in-person hearings. In fact, I think the ALJs are granting at a slightly higher rate during the pandemic (for my clients at least).
That being said, there are times that I think it is beneficial to have an in-person hearing. My clients with impairments like hearing disorders, tremors, notable skin conditions, and other impairments that are visible may benefit from an in-person hearing. Also, clients who do not have access to reliable phone or computer service would likely want to select an in-person hearing. The desired format of the hearing really comes down to a case by case basis.
In summary, I do not think that an in-person hearing is crucial in most instances. However, it is a good idea to discuss the options with your attorney and get your attorney's recommendation before objecting to the format, so you are making an informed decision when it comes to your hearing choices.
Got a question about SSDI or SSI that you need us to answer? Please check out our website at www.westcoastdisability.com . We try to provide you with helpful information on our website that will allow you to successfully navigate the Social Security Disability process. Also, feel free to email me your questions at email@example.com or call me at (800) 459-3017 x 101.