Social Security Disability Video Hearings Increase, Allsup Reports

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Allsup explains what to expect during the SSDI hearing before an administrative law judge.

As more SSDI claimants use technology to interact with Social Security, they can benefit from expert understanding of this process with a representative like Allsup.

More than 150,000 video hearings were held for Social Security disability benefits last year. This is a significant increase from the previous year and signals the value of preparation and representation for the hearing, according to Allsup, which has helped more than 200,000 people receive their Social Security Disability Insurance benefits.

The Social Security Administration (SSA), which administers the SSDI program, reported 153,592 video hearings in fiscal year 2012, up from 129,775 video hearings in FY 2011. This is an 18 percent increase.

“Social Security plans to use more video hearings to help address the backlog of disability claims,” said Mike Stein, Allsup assistant vice president of claims. “As more SSDI claimants use technology to interact with Social Security, they can benefit from expert understanding of this process with a representative like Allsup.”

The SSA completed 820,484 hearings in FY 2012, and most were in-person hearings. But technology allows administrative law judges (ALJs) to interact with claimants by videoconferencing. The SSA estimates 169,000 video hearings will be held by FY 2014. SSDI is a federally mandated insurance program. It provides monthly income to people under full retirement age (age 65 or older) who can no longer work because of a severe disability expected to last 12 months or is terminal. SSDI is funded by FICA payroll taxes paid by workers and their employers.

During a video hearing, the judge, claimant and representative can see, talk to and hear each other using videoconferencing equipment. The judge usually remains at his location while videoconferencing with the claimant at his or her location.

Social Security Disability Hearing: What To Expect
Allsup outlines what someone can expect at a Social Security Disability Insurance hearing.

Can a claimant go alone? Yes, claimants can attend the hearing without representation, but they are less likely to receive benefits. SSA data shows that only 47 percent of people attending the hearing without a representative receive their benefits. Compare that to 80 percent of Allsup claimants who receive benefits at the hearing level. Note: Those who decide to hire a representative for their hearing should do so as quickly as possible. If not, it might be too late; there may not be enough time for a representative to prepare properly.

How should I dress? Dress nicely, and not too casual. A business suit isn’t required, but shorts and a halter top are not appropriate. “It’s important to show respect by dressing appropriately,” Stein said.

What happens in the hearing room? The claimant and representative talk with the judge, who leads the proceedings. There also will be someone who records the proceedings, and a vocational or medical expert, or both. A claimant may have another witness, such as a spouse, to give testimony. Witnesses typically have a limited impact on the claim. “It’s important to remember the SSDI program is based on medical evidence, which is why the records are so critical,” Stein explained. “Medical records usually are referenced during the hearing, if the judge has questions about medications, treatment and notations.”

The judge begins by swearing in the claimant and asking general questions for the record. Examples include the claimant’s name, birthdate and Social Security number. The ALJ may ask the claimant for her height, weight and living arrangements.

It’s common for the judge to ask the claimant about how her disability affects her daily life. Questions may cover handling household activities, such as shopping, laundry and cleaning. This is the time when the claimant’s representative may interject with questions of his own to help clarify the person’s physical limitations, Stein said.

What happens next? More questions are likely. For example, the ALJ may ask a vocational expert about any jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform. Medical experts may respond to questions about whether the claimant is physically or mentally able to perform that type of work.

How does the hearing end? Hearings typically last about an hour, though they can be shorter or longer. Following the hearing, the ALJ will close the proceedings. Most of the time, the claimant and representative will leave the hearing without knowing how the ALJ will decide.

Claimants usually receive the decision in writing by mail, and it may take up to six months to receive. It is rare, but a judge can make a bench decision, announcing at the hearing that she is awarding SSDI benefits. A formal, written notification is required in order to begin benefits, and it is possible for the ALJ to change her mind if she receives additional information or evidence following the hearing.

Preparing and attending the hearing can be stressful, Stein said. “The hearing is not designed to be confrontational, and many judges are understanding and patient,” he said. “Remember to remain calm, be yourself, answer questions truthfully and with complete details.”

Those who are filing a disability appeal or have an upcoming hearing can contact the Allsup Disability Evaluation Center at (800) 678-3276 for a free SSDI evaluation.

ABOUT ALLSUP
Allsup is a nationwide provider of Social Security disability, veterans disability appeal, Medicare and Medicare Secondary Payer compliance services for individuals, employers and insurance carriers. Founded in 1984, Allsup employs more than 800 professionals who deliver specialized services supporting people with disabilities and seniors so they may lead lives that are as financially secure and as healthy as possible. The company is based in Belleville, Ill., near St. Louis. For more information, go to http://www.Allsup.com or visit Allsup on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/Allsupinc.

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Rebecca Ray
Allsup
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