There are advantages to an in-person hearing
If you have been denied on a disability reconsideration and have requested, or are about to request a disability hearing, there is the possibility (though slim) that may you end up having your hearing conducted at a site other than a social security hearing office...by video.
Yes, by video. Note: you always the right to decline a video hearing in favor of an in-person hearing, though this may result in a longer time to get a disability hearing date.
On its face, the notion of a video hearing seems to make sense. After all, depending on where you live in your state of residence, getting to a hearing may be difficult if you live very far away (even in North Carolina, it's been the case that claimants have had to drive as far away as 2 hours to get to a hearing location). Video hearings, whether they're held at a satellite location, or at a disability attorney's office, could "potentially" make things much easier for some claimants.
But easier at what price? Think about it. One of the great advantages of going to a Social Security Disability hearing is that not only will your case be decided by someone other than a disability examiner, and not only will you be allowed to have a representative directly involved, but you'll...actually get to meet the adjudicator on your case.
Disability hearings are very different from initial claims and reconsideration appeals where you never get to meet the decision-maker and you are, basically, just another file that the disability examiner has to deal with in his or her caseload. At hearings, you can be both seen and heard and this facet of the hearing is something that helps to personalize the appeal, making it less likely for the adjudicator to think of you as just another case.
Won't you be seen and heard at a hearing conducted by video? Yes, but will it be the same in a psychological sense? I would contend that not being physically present in the same room as a judge may make it easier for the judge to become more dismissive of a claim, the claimant, and the claimant's disability representative.
Why? Because appearing at a hearing by video puts more distance (literally and figuratively) between the claimant and the disability judge, and the nature and context of that appearance may not be to the claimant's advantage.
As an example of what I mean, consider your own conversations on phones with people you know. You may find yourself saying things over the phone that you wouldn't necessarily say in person. If not that, you might find yourself saying things "differently" than you might say in person; for example, more aggressively, more abruptly, less sympathetic than you might if the person you're speaking to was actually physically in front of you.
I've known many individuals who would rather handle certain "types" of conversation over the phone rather than in person, because its easier. Why is it easier? Because it's more distanced.
In this same sense, video hearings may carry a more "distanced feel" for each disability judge, making it easier for them to be less sympathetic and more dismissive of disability claimants.
As I said, this is purely opinion. However, if given the choice myself, I would always choose an in-person hearing over a video hearing. After all, you wait too long to get to a hearing and too much is at stake to even consider minimizing your chances of winning disability benefits.
About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.
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