The Social Security Administration (SSA) can conduct disability hearings in one of three ways: in person, over the phone, or by video teleconference (VTC). Most hearings have historically been conducted in person, with remote methods being used as an option almost only when the disability applicant ("claimant") has trouble getting to the hearing location.
In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, the SSA has expanded the use of "virtual" hearings to increase efficiency and ease claimants' travel burdens. Many of the hearings are conducted out of a National Hearing Center (NHC), an all-virtual office. And locally, many administrative law judges (ALJs) are still holding telephone hearings. But if you don't feel comfortable with a phone or video teleconference, you have the right to request an in-person hearing.
Each method of hearing has its strengths and weaknesses. If you have a representative helping you with your disability claim, you should discuss whether it makes sense for you to have a VTC, phone, or in-person hearing. Take into consideration several of the factors below before you make your decision.
If your hearing notice says that you were scheduled for a video teleconference hearing, you'll need to have access to a computer or smartphone that allows you to run a secure program called Microsoft Teams. Your VTC notice will contain instructions on how to set up the program and log in on the date and time of your hearing.
If your hearing notice says you were scheduled for a phone hearing, the SSA will call you on the number you provided at the time and date of your hearing. A hearing monitor will add you to a conference call and announce your presence to the ALJ, who will identify themselves as well as any additional witnesses on the line.
If your hearing notice doesn't mention that the hearing will be conducted by phone or VTC, your hearing will be held in person. You'll need to be physically present at the location provided on the date and scheduled time.
Many disability attorneys prefer in-person hearings over telephone or VTC methods. In their eyes, the pros of having a hearing where they're in the same room with their client and the ALJ outweigh the cons. But before you opt for an in-person hearing, make sure that you're comfortable with a potential wait of several months while the SSA reschedules your claim.
No one-size-fits-all method works for every claimant, and if you have a strong preference for one method over the other, let your representative know. Your attorney might agree with you. If you have a well-supported opinion from your regular doctor stating that you have severe work-related limitations, you could benefit from the convenience of a video hearing.
If you have a VTC hearing scheduled and you don't have a representative, you may want to contact an experienced disability attorney for advice.
Updated September 21, 2022