Before the COVID-19 pandemic, if you were applying for Social Security Disability benefits and you needed to go to a hearing with a disability judge because your initial application was denied, you had two options for the format of your hearing:
The pandemic caused Social Security to add two additional types of disability hearing:
But you should know this: Not every type of Social Security Disability hearing is necessarily equal.
When serious health problems have forced you out of work, and your financial situation is difficult, you have a lot riding on your hearing. You want the best possible conditions for getting an ALJ to approve your benefits, so you can get a measure of normalcy back in your life.
If you have a disability hearing coming up, you’ll want to know what kind of hearing format may be best for you.
If you work with our disability law firm in Wisconsin, you will always get a prehearing conference with us to prepare for your hearing.
Here is what you need to know about the different settings for hearings . . .
In a perfect world, all hearings would be in person. In-person hearings provide you the opportunity to be in the same room as the person making the decision in your case. That direct human contact is valuable.
Without question, it’s the most effective forum to effectively communicate with the judge.
So are there drawbacks?
The problem with in-person disability hearings is that these types of hearings take the longest amount of time to schedule.
This is what happens in the areas we serve in northern Wisconsin: People living in the Fox Valley have their hearings in Oshkosh or Green Bay. Other claimants living in Northwest Wisconsin may have their hearings in Wausau.
None of these hearing sites have administrative law judges physically assigned to them. So the judges have to travel from their regular hearing offices to these locations for the hearings.
Most ALJs don’t travel frequently. As a result, you will likely have to wait a significant period of time for your hearing to be scheduled.
As a result of this expected delay, I generally don’t recommend in-person hearings to my clients seeking disability benefits.
But in certain circumstances, it may be worth the wait, especially if you have the financial means to support yourself in the meantime.
Here are situations where I may say the best option is to go in person:
Prior to the additional options offered by Social Security because of COVID-19, I had no problem having my clients use Social Security’s video conference procedure for their hearings.
But now, it’s the worst option of all.
First of all, a video conference requires you to travel to a hearing office. So even though it’s done by video, you still have to leave your home and get to a specific location where the video equipment is set up.
Social Security requests that you arrive 30 minutes prior to the scheduled time of your hearing.
So if you arrive for your 10 a.m. hearing at 9:30 and your hearing starts an hour late at 11 a.m., you have to sit and wait 90 minutes for your hearing.
Maybe to some this doesn’t sound like a big difference for an event you’ve likely already waited months to reach. But it can be very difficult for someone suffering from severe back pain and even worse for someone with severe anxiety.
It is much easier to wait for your hearing to start from the comfort of your own home, which is now possible.
To make matters worse, the screen in the conference room often doesn’t show a clear view of the judge. They often put the camera a significant distance across the room.
The only potential advantage of this kind of hearing over doing it from your home is that your representative will be in the room with you during the hearing.
This is convenient, but it’s important to note that regardless of your meeting setup, the judge generally will stop the hearing and give you an opportunity to speak with your disability lawyer if a significant issue comes up that requires such a conversation.
Scheduling this type of hearing is faster than an in-person hearing, but these still get scheduled at a slower rate than telephone or remote video hearings from home.
During a telephone hearing—newly available since the pandemic—the administrative law judge will call you at your home.
Your disability attorney will be on the call with you. These types of hearings, along with the video hearings discussed below, are the quickest to schedule.
I have found this type of hearing to be highly effective and efficient.
One additional benefit is that you don’t have to concern yourself with how you appear to the ALJ and can physically position yourself in the most comfortable way for you during the hearing.
A video call hearing is the same as a telephone hearing, but you use your computer instead of your telephone, and you can see the participants during the hearing.
Due to the fact that you can see the judge’s face up close (they’re at their computer, not a desk across the room from a camera), it can be easier to communicate with them during the hearing.
I recommend this type of hearing as long as you have the necessary computer equipment along with reliable internet access.
If you don’t have that technology, one of the other options may be the best for you.
You can decide which type of hearing is right for you depending on what you’re most capable of doing and what makes you most comfortable.
And your Social Security Disability lawyer can consult with you on what’s best for your particular situation.
If you were denied for Social Security Disability benefits in Wisconsin, and you’re appealing the denial and getting ready to take your claim to a disability judge, get in touch with us at Geary Disability Law.
It doesn’t cost anything for you to have an initial consultation with our Appleton and Northeast Wisconsin disability law firm about your best path forward to life-changing disability benefits.
Written by Tim Geary.
Disclaimer: Blog entries are not intended to be a substitute for actual legal advice. It is important for a representative to understand the specific facts and circumstances of your case before they can provide you actual legal advice. If you have questions about your Social Security Disability benefits, please contact a qualified representative to discuss your case.
To win the financial (and stress) relief that comes with Social Security Disability benefits, you...Read more
Although some people get their benefits granted right away, most people who apply for Social...Read more
Support from Social Security Disability changes your life when health problems have robbed you of...Read more