Due to the increased backlog of claims in recent years, the wait for a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) has increased drastically. In most jurisdictions, a claimant will wait 12 to 18 months (or longer) to have a hearing in front of an ALJ. This wait time does not include the processing time periods from initial application and reconsideration either. The 12 to 18 month waiting period begins once any individual requests a hearing. The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes that these timeframes are problematic for individuals whom are unable to work, unable to earn an income, and in many cases, unable to put food on their tables. Thus, SSA utilizes video teleconferencing (VTC) to help decrease the backlog. The process involves having ALJs appear by VTC from other jurisdictions that are not as backlogged at the hearing level. Often these VTC ALJs are from states that are not as populated, and therefore do not have as many claimants in their jurisdictions. Thus, the VTC ALJs have time to hear cases from other jurisdictions, which can help to decrease the backlog of claims.
The Offices of Disability Adjudication and Review, who handle claims at the hearing level, will send letters notifying claimants that they are utilizing the VTC process to help improve the efficiency of the hearing process. If you do not wish to have a VTC hearing scheduled, you have 30 days from the date that you receive the VTC notification to object to it. If you do not object within the 30-day period, and later decide you do not want to have a VTC hearing, then you must have good cause for missing the deadline.
In some cases, a VTC hearing makes sense. Accepting a VTC hearing may mean that you will have your hearing months in advance of when it normally would be scheduled. However, a VTC also has its drawbacks. The VTCs can be blurry and have slight delays between communications. Thus, if you are hard of hearing, have difficulty with speech, or if you have an impairment that has physical manifestations (i.e. tremors, skin disorders etc), it may be best do elect to have an in-person hearing, even if it means you will be waiting extra months for that hearing.
By: Thomas A. Klint of Premier Disability Services, LLC®