Due to the Federal Government Shutdown, Social Security field offices are open with limited services. Hearings offices remain open to conduct hearings before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Social Security card centers are closed.
Social Security and Supplemental Security Income payments to beneficiaries will continue with no change in payment dates.
If you live in northern Minnesota and have recently been notified of a hearing on your Social Security disability claim, there’s a good chance that it will be held by Video Teleconferencing (VTC). As a result, you may have the following questions:
-What is video teleconferencing?
–Can I request an “in person” hearing, instead of a video conference hearing?
-Are there disadvantages to having a video conference Social Security disability hearing?
Within the past year or so, the Social Security Administration has begun scheduling video conference hearings for northern Minnesota claims. Prior to that, Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) from the Minneapolis office would travel to Duluth or Hibbing and hold hearings where claimants and their representatives could appear live and in person. Apparently, the backlog in northern Minnesota became so great, that the Social Security Administration decided to begin using videoconference hearings with judges from outside the Minnesota area. In our experience, this change seems to have sped up the process of getting to a hearing. In the past, it was not unusual to wait as long as two years for a hearing after filing an initial application for disability benefits.
The videoconference hearings that I have attended with my clients during the past year or so have all involved judges from the St. Louis, Missouri Social Security Administration office.
A videoconference hearing is really no different than a live hearing, except that the judge is appearing on a television screen from his or her office hundreds of miles away. My clients and I typically travel to the federal courthouse in Duluth for the hearings. Generally, a vocational expert (VE) is present at the hearing in Duluth, although sometimes they appear by telephone conference. (Please see this previous post for more information about vocational experts.)
Procedurally, the hearings are identical to the way they would be held if the judge was present. There is a video screen in the hearing room and the judge can see you and you can see the judge. Any witnesses who will testify are sworn in, and the hearing proceeds in the normal fashion. (See this previous post for a description of what happens at a Social Security disability hearing). After a while, you hardly notice the fact that the judge is not in the same room with you.
Yes. The rules specifically provide that you have that option and the Notice of Hearing will also advise you of that right. If you prefer not to appear at your hearing by video teleconference, you must notify the Social Security hearing office within 5 days after you receive your Hearing Notice. The Hearing Notice also warns you that requesting an in person hearing “might delay your hearing to a date later than the current hearing date”.
I have not noticed or observed any disadvantages to videoconference hearings and none of my clients have had any problems with the process. Anytime you can get to a disability hearing faster and with fewer delays, I consider that to be an advantage.
Just like the rest of the world, the Social Security Administration seems to be using more and more of the new technology that is available. After watching many of my clients over the past several years suffer both physically and financially, while waiting months and months for a hearing, I think the new videoconferencing procedure has been a welcome development.
If you have any questions about a Social Security disability claim or if you need an experienced attorney to represent you, please feel free to contact us at any time with questions or to schedule your absolutely free initial consultation. Attorney Steve Bradt has been successfully representing Social Security disability claimants all across northern Minnesota for nearly 30 years. We are happy to assist you in any way that we can with your claim.
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If you have applied for Social Security disability benefits and are reading this article, then your claim has probably been denied. If that’s the case, you are definitely in the majority, because most disability claims are initially denied.
After receiving your initial denial, you may have already requested a reconsideration and been denied again. Now it’s time to request a hearing, which will be held before a Social Security Administrative Law Judge (referred to as an ALJ). So what happens at one of these hearings?
First of all, you should understand that yours will be only one of several hearings that the Administrative Law Judge will hear that day. Therefore, the hearings are relatively brief, typically lasting one hour or less.
Where Will the Hearing Be Held? For claims here in northern Minnesota, hearings are generally held at the Federal Courthouse in Duluth. There may be some exceptions where your hearing is scheduled for Minneapolis, Bemidji or some other location, depending on where you live. Until just recently, hearings were also held in Hibbing. The hearing may be held in the presence of a “live” ALJ, or, by videoconference. Presently, many of the northern Minnesota hearings are being held by videoconferences conducted by judges out of the St. Louis Social Security office.
What Happens at a Hearing? The judge and your representative will discuss some preliminary matters, such as when you are claiming that you became disabled and what medical exhibits and other evidence are in the hearing record. The Judge will then ask you some questions about your employment history, the nature and extent of your disabling conditions, your medical treatment and your typical daily activities. When the judge has completed his or her examination, your representative will then have the opportunity to ask you some additional questions to supplement or clarify any of the issues in your case.
Who Else Is Present at a Hearing? Whether the judge is in the courtroom or appearing by videoconference, the other persons typically participating in a hearing will be you, your representative, sometimes a vocational expert and sometimes a medical expert. Some judges always have medical or vocational experts, or both, at the hearings. Each judge has his or her particular preference, so there may or may not be experts present at your particular hearing. Once your testimony is finished, the vocational and/or medical experts will provide testimony in response to questions from the judge and your representative. Their testimony will deal with your functional limitations, medical impairments, employment history and ability to perform particular jobs or types of employment.
When Will You Get a Decision? Sometimes, the judge will issue a favorable decision during or at the conclusion of your hearing. Or, the judge may offer you a “deal”, by determining that you are disabled in exchange for you changing your claimed disability date. If that happens, your representative can explain your options and advise you whether you should accept any proposed deal from the judge. Usually, however, you’ll have to wait for a written decision, which can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months.
What Can Bradt Law Offices Do for You? If we represent you in a Social Security disability claim, there are a number of things we will do for you. We will gather your medical records and submit them to Social Security to make sure that all relevant and available records are considered in your disability claim. We may also ask your doctors for specific reports or disability forms that we can submit as well. We will meet with you before the hearing and provide you with an outline of the types of questions you may be asked at the hearing and prepare you to respond to those questions.
We appear with you at the hearing, make sure that you understand your claim and the process, answer any questions the judge might have about the claim and cross-examine the medical or vocational witnesses on your behalf. Finally, we only get paid if we win. Our fees are 25% of any back pay you receive if you are found to be disabled. We don’t receive any percentage of your ongoing or future benefits.
If you have any questions about a pending claim, or if you are simply considering whether to file for Social Security disability benefits, please feel free to contact us for your free consultation. We are always happy to review your claim and give you our honest opinion about your chance of success.
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