The Social Security Administration is scheduling video hearings more and more frequently. We, and many of the Judges with whom we have discussed this, do not really like them. We advise almost all of our clients to decline the video hearing and request an in-person hearing—something to which every claimant has an absolute right under the current Regulations.
Why are we against them? You can judge a lot more about someone in person than you can on a two-dimensional TV screen, no matter how big it is. Think about how different it is watching a ball game at home versus being at the stadium. At the game you can watch the players on the sidelines, not just see the play on the field.
The same is true for a Social Security Disability hearing. In some cases there is a real “feel” about a disabled person that can never be transmitted through a camera. This is especially true in cases where the claimant has psychological impairments.
The slight delay in the system also makes it harder for either side to follow the discussion. Also, the less than state of the art system limits what the Judge can observe about a claimant. This can extend to “off the record” observations such as a claimant’s difficulty getting into the hearing room or out of the seat after his or her hearing concludes.
Finally, there is one subtle but very important aspect that hurts claimants who opt for a video hearing. I believe it is easier for a Judge to decline a case for someone he or she has never really “met.” When I prepare clients for their hearing I always tell them that this is the only time in a Social Security claim they will come face to face with the decision maker. I believe that if the initial decisions included some in-person connection with the claims analysts, far more cases would be allowed. Putting the Hearings Judge on the other side of a camera puts him one step closer to that anonymous claims analyst.
Video hearings may help the agency handle more cases, but the cost is borne by those who can least afford it: the claimants.