In a July 30 article, the Daily News reported that the Social Security Administration’s Dayton hearing office in the last two fiscal years was the second slowest in the nation for processing appeals for benefits. Even though the office has improved wait times — this year it has not ranked among the 20 slowest in the country — Brown said more must be done to reduce the delays further. He said wait times may shrink if more hospitals transitioned to electronic medical records and more members of the public were aware of and utilized video-hearing options.“This is important because these are life and death situations for people who have lost jobs and are unable to go to work and need an answer from their government about whether they qualify for Social Security disability,” Brown, D-Ohio, said in an interview. “We want these done as quickly as possible.”
I applaud Senator Brown’s support for speeding up processing times, but there are a few important points being missed here.
1) most updates done at the hearing level are not done by SSA but rather by representatives and if they are done by SSA they are done post hearing. Many reps can handle electronic medical records, but getting providers to give them to us that way is still lagging far behind.
2) video hearings have many problems, including equipment failures and freezing. Further, it can be difficult for the ALJ to see and observe many things with the claimant at video hearing. They may not see the claimant grimace in pain, squirm in their seat, or be able to see braces especially on the leg. The ALJ may not be able to see lesions and such on the face and other physical impairments that are much easier to see in person. In addition, many times with Video hearings an expert will be testifying by telephone and will be on the other end of one of the parties (usually testifying by telephone at the ALJ’s location). This makes it extremely difficult to understand or even hear the testimony. I have had the pleasure of doing a video hearings with an interpreter needed for my client. At one hearing the interpreter was in person, at another the interpreter was over the phone at the ALJ’s location. In the first case, the ALJ had difficulty with hearing some of the testimony from our end. The other case was a nightmare due to the delays from transmission, the difficulty in understanding the accent of the interpreter over the phone and then over the video conference equipment. This caused the hearing to go very long and be very disjointed.
While everyone wants to speed up the processing times for hearings, it is important that we preserve the claimants right to a fair hearing and to be heard. At the current time, this is jeopardized by problems with technology that have no easy solutions. As such, the decision on whether or not to accept a video hearing is one that must be on a case by case basis.
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