I-5-1-16.Video Teleconferencing Procedures

Table of Contents
I Purpose
II Introduction
III Operating Procedures
IV Management Information
V Inquiries
VI Attachments
Attachment 1 Final Rules
Attachment 2 Pamphlet — “Why You Should Have Your Hearing By Video”

ISSUED: September 3, 2003

REVISED: April 26, 2005

REVISED: December 11, 2013

I. Purpose

This Temporary Instruction (TI) provides procedures for using video teleconferencing (VTC) to conduct administrative law judge (ALJ) hearings.

II. Introduction

ALJs may conduct hearings where one or more participants appear by VTC from a remote location. The ALJ conducts the hearing using equipment connected to the Social Security Administration's (SSA) communications networks or, in some cases, to Federal, state, or commercially owned and operated networks or privately owned equipment. VTC equipment enables ALJs to direct the conduct of hearings with claimants, representatives, translators, and/or witnesses located at any other VTC-equipped site.

VTC sites include hearing rooms, permanent remote hearing sites, Representative Video Project (RVP) sites, and other SSA VTC facilities such as field offices, Disability Determination Services (DDS), and similar locations. VTC-equipped sites also include sites belonging to State networks. For sites on the SSA network, ALJs have the ability to control the VTC equipment at both sites.

The regulations that authorize and direct the use of VTC are located at 20 CFR §§ 404.929, 404.936, 404.938, 404.950, 405.315, 416.1429, 416.1436, 416.1438, and 416.1450, as amended in final rules published in the Federal Register (FR) on February 3, 2003 (68 FR 5210), and December 11, 2003 (68 FR 69003). Copies of the Federal Register documents that amended these regulations are attached to this TI as Attachment 1.

III. Operating Procedures

A. Informing Claimants and Representatives About VTC Procedures

Hearing Offices (HO) that use VTC regularly will request that servicing field offices (FO) stock a supply of the pamphlet “Why You Should Have Your Hearing By Video” (copy at Attachment 2 to this TI). HOs will request that FOs provide the pamphlet to claimants and representatives when a request for hearing is filed. The HO will also send a copy of the pamphlet to the claimant and representative when the HO acknowledges receipt of the request for hearing. In addition to the pamphlet, the HO may access current information about VTC for hearings on the intranet at: http://odar.ba.ssa.gov/resources/workload/e-disability/video-hearings/.

In pre-hearing contacts with claimants and representatives, HO staff will routinely ask whether the claimant received information about VTC procedures. HO staff will also ensure that claimants and representatives have an opportunity to ask questions about those procedures.

When a case is to be transferred to another HO (see HALLEX I-2-1-57), and it is anticipated that the assisting ALJ will schedule the hearing by VTC, the transferring HO will provide the claimant and/or the representative an opportunity to review the claim file before it is transferred. The transferring HO will also inform the claimant and representative that the hearing might be scheduled by VTC. Although it is not necessary to obtain the claimant's permission in advance, if the claimant or representative has a strong objection to the claimant appearing by VTC, the transferring HO may decide not to transfer the case. In order to ensure that hearings on transferred cases can be scheduled timely, the transferring HO must work closely with the assisting office during the transfer process to confirm that VTC equipped hearing rooms can be scheduled at both sites within reasonable time frames.

NOTE:

See HALLEX I-2-0-70 regarding transfers to another HO when a claimant changes his or her residence address.

B. Scheduling an Appearance by VTC

ALJs are expected to routinely schedule appearances by VTC when it has been determined that appearances at hearings can be conducted more efficiently by VTC than in person. Under the provisions of 20 CFR 404.936(c), 405.315(c), and 416.1436(c), when VTC capabilities exist, an in-person appearance should be scheduled only if the ALJ determines that there is a circumstance in the particular case that would make it inappropriate to use VTC. Situations in which the ALJ might exercise his or her discretion not to schedule a VTC appearance may include:

  • It would be more efficient to conduct the claimant's appearance in the HO because his or her residence is closer to the HO than any VTC-equipped remote site;

  • An ALJ is available at the remote site for another reason or lives in the area of the remote site;

  • An ALJ would have to travel to another office to access the VTC equipment and such travel would be at a greater expense than traveling to the remote site;

  • The claimant presents a threat of violence, and there is insufficient security at the remote site;

  • The claimant or the claimant's representative has a visual or auditory impairment of a type that could adversely affect his or her ability to appear and participate in the hearing through VTC;

  • The claimant alleges bias on the part of an expert witness and the ALJ determines that the claimant should have the opportunity to cross examine the witness in person; or

  • The existing evidence indicates that in-person observation of the claimant is required to evaluate the claim properly.

An ALJ may also determine that there is a circumstance preventing use of VTC when the claimant or his or her representative clearly stated in the pre-scheduling process that he or she is not willing to appear by VTC. Although the claimant may only submit an objection after the notice of hearing is issued (see C. below), our practice is to give claimants an opportunity to state a preference about appearing by VTC. The ALJ will consider any stated preference by the claimant or the representative for or against appearing by VTC.

A claimant's or appointed representative's refusal to appear by VTC will not normally require that the case be reassigned to another ALJ. The ALJ to whom the case is assigned will usually retain jurisdiction over the case and will reschedule it for an in-person hearing.

In addition, sections 20 CFR 404.936(c), 405.315(c), and 416.1436(c) provide that the ALJ will determine whether any person other than the claimant, including a medical or vocational expert, will appear at the hearing in person, by VTC, or by telephone. If the claimant objects to any other person appearing by VTC or by telephone, the ALJ will decide the issue, either in writing or at the hearing. The ALJ will direct another person to appear by VTC or telephone when the ALJ determines:

  • VTC or telephone equipment is available;

  • Use of VTC or telephone equipment would be more efficient than conducting an examination of a witness in person; and

  • There is no other reason that VTC or telephone should not be used.

While the claimant has an absolute right to refuse to appear at a scheduled hearing by VTC, he or she does not have the right to veto the scheduled appearance of any witness by VTC (or telephone). A claimant may state objections to the appearance of an expert witness by VTC (or telephone) just as he or she may state objections to any other aspect of the hearing. Pursuant to 20 CFR 404.936(d) and 416.1436(d), the claimant must notify the ALJ of his or her objections, in writing if possible, at the earliest possible opportunity before the time set for the hearing. In Region I, a claimant must notify the ALJ in writing at the earliest possible opportunity before the date set for the hearing, but no later than 30 days after receiving notice of the hearing. See 20 CFR 405.317. The ALJ will then rule on these objections.

We reserve the right not to schedule VTC appearances for individuals who ask to appear by VTC. In some areas, we may not have the capability to accommodate the request, or the ALJ may determine that an appearance must be conducted in-person.

C. Notice of Hearing

When sending out the notice of hearing when the claimant or a witness will appear by VTC, HOs must use a standardized notice generated through the Document Generation System (DGS). DGS includes the standardized notices of hearing we use in all case types, as well as our standardized amended notices of hearing and notices of continued hearing. Appropriate language options are available in DGS for a variety of situations involving VTC use, including those in which the claimant only appears before the ALJ by VTC, only a witness or witnesses appear by VTC, the claimant and one expert witness appear by VTC (from the same or a different site), or the claimant and all witnesses appear by VTC (from the same or different sites).

The notice of hearing sent to a claimant who is scheduled to appear by VTC includes two headings (each with accompanying text) that are not included in other standardized notices. The first heading, “I Plan To Use Video Teleconferencing At Your Hearing,” notifies the claimant that he or she has been scheduled to appear by VTC and explains the VTC process. The second, “What To Do If You Do Not Want To Appear At Your Hearing By Video Teleconference,” tells the claimant how to use the acknowledgment form (HA-504) to notify the ALJ if he or she wants to appear in person.

Under the heading “If You Cannot Come To Your Scheduled [Rescheduled/Continued] Hearing,” the notice of hearing language advises claimants who have been scheduled to appear by VTC that they do not need to state a reason for not wanting to participate by VTC. A claimant's objection to appearing by VTC or a desire to appear in person will constitute good cause for rescheduling the claimant's appearance. See 20 CFR 404.936(e) and 416.1436(e).

HO staff will use the “Remarks” section in DGS language to advise the claimant that an expert witness or witnesses will appear by VTC and that the claimant will see, hear, and speak with the expert through the VTC equipment. There is also DGS language available to advise the claimant that his or her communication with an expert witness will be by VTC in situations in which the witness is appearing in person before the ALJ and the claimant is appearing by VTC.

If an individual will participate in the hearing through VTC from a site other than that at which the claimant will appear, standardized language is not available to advise the claimant of this circumstance, and the notice must be personalized.

Where the claimant will appear by VTC, DGS will also delete the first bullet under “What Happens At The Hearing” and add the following language under “Remarks” —

You have a right to review the claim file. If you have not already reviewed the file or made arrangements to do so, please call this office at the number shown on the first page of this notice. You will also have an opportunity at the hearing to view documents in the file using a special document camera.

In addition, DGS will generate the HA-504 acknowledgment form with VTC language to send to claimants who have been scheduled to appear by VTC. The form includes a block the claimant may check to indicate: “I do not want to appear at my hearing by video teleconference. Please reschedule my hearing so that I may appear before you in person.”

D. Rescheduling the Hearing for an In-person Appearance by the Claimant

If a claimant who has been scheduled to appear by VTC requests an in-person hearing, the ALJ will reschedule the hearing to allow the claimant to appear in person. HO staff will reschedule the hearing at the earliest possible time based on the date the claimant filed the request for hearing. Election of the option to appear in person will not cause the claimant to lose his or her place in the queue of individuals awaiting entry into the process for scheduling hearings.

NOTE:

A claimant's decision not to accept a scheduled appearance by VTC will not prevent reimbursement of travel expenses under 20 CFR 404.999c and 416.1498(d)(4).

E. Conducting a Hearing When a Participant Appears by VTC

ALJs conduct hearings where one or more participants appear by VTC in the same manner as other hearings, with the following exceptions:

  • Because ALJ travel is unnecessary when the claimant appears by VTC, the hearings can be scheduled and conducted on a flow or daily basis without assembling a travel docket. Use of VTC can also facilitate the scheduling of experts whose testimony is required at the hearing. To ensure that the scheduling of hearings using VTC is not delayed, the cases will be identified and coded into the Case Processing and Management System (CPMS) as early in the pre-hearing screening process as possible (see HALLEX I-5-1-16 IV Management Information).

  • In addition to the usual considerations regarding the availability of the hearing participants, the scheduler must consider the availability of the remote VTC hearing site, the video hearing room in the HO (or other network access site), and the availability of a contract monitor, guard, or other individual at the remote site.

  • Even though the ALJ may not be physically present at the remote site, a determination must be made whether a security guard needs to be at the remote site for the contract hearing monitor. This is especially important when the claimant is unrepresented and the monitor will be alone with the claimant.

  • When using state or commercial networks, the scheduler will reserve times and rooms on the network using whatever procedures the state or commercial network requires.

  • Single-connection, point-to-point video calls can be made at any time on the SSA data network (“SSA Net”) managed by the Office of Telecommunications and Systems Operations (OTSO) and can be preprogrammed into the equipment. All sites on SSA Net are shown on a drop down menu in the address book. Select the site desired and press the “call” button. This will activate the equipment at the remote end. If the equipment at the remote end is being used, a dialog box will appear telling the user that the equipment they are attempting to connect to is in use. In order to avoid disrupting a meeting or in-person hearing, always ensure that the room at the remote end is reserved or not in use prior to placing a call.

  • If the remote location is not on the SSA Net or if more than two locations are involved (such as an HO, a remote site, and an expert witness at a third location), the scheduler will need to reserve a gateway or dial-in bridge line from OTSO. Gateways are needed for callers outside the SSA Net to reach the network. Bridges are used when the call involves more than two locations. All users (sites) will be connected in the same manner as a conference call by telephone. OTSO provides an automated menu for reserving gateways and bridge lines at 410-597-1000. Additional instructions for scheduling and placing video calls may be found at: http://odar.ba.ssa.gov/resources/workload/e-disability/video-hearings/.

  • Claimants and representatives appearing by VTC should be strongly encouraged to mail new evidence to the HO well in advance of the hearing date. Remote VTC sites and HO VTC hearing rooms are equipped with facsimile capability. Evidence the claimant brings to the hearing may be faxed to the ALJ in the HO in limited quantities. The ALJ may require the claimant or representative to mail larger quantities of evidence.

  • The ALJ, HO staff, or monitor should establish the video connection and check the equipment at least 15 minutes prior to the scheduled hearing.

  • Normally, the video camera should remain powered on and connected to the network at all times. OTSO continuously monitors all video equipment connected to the network to ensure that it is operational. If the video equipment is disconnected or powered off, it cannot be monitored and OTSO cannot ensure operational status. The OTSO Control Center Hotline (phone # (410) 966-0795) should be notified if video equipment is disconnected or there is a problem with the connection or the transmission. In lieu of powering off the video camera, the ALJ may mute the sound of the video connection when it is not in use. The camera should never be covered as it could overheat and be damaged. Peripheral equipment, such as the document camera and FAX machine may be powered off when not in use. The TV monitor should be powered on at all times so that incoming calls are readily apparent. The monitor will go into sleep mode when not in use.

  • When calling the OTSO Hotline to report a problem, the caller must always obtain a ticket number from the help desk. Obtaining a ticket number will ensure that the problem is entered into OTSO's tracking system and promptly responded to. In the event follow-up is needed, service calls and ticket numbers should be logged along with other HO service calls by the Hearing Office Systems Administrator or another responsible individual.

  • Expert witnesses will frequently testify at the HO or by telephone. However, they may also testify from a remote VTC location.

  • The hearing may be recorded in audio only at the remote end or at the HO end. Normally, only one hearing monitor will be used and will be located at the remote end which is the best location to make a good quality recording of the claimant's testimony. However, in some network or off-network call-in situations, no contract monitor will be available at the remote end and the recording will be made at the HO.

  • Claimants and representatives participating by VTC must be provided access to the record. When necessary, arrangements may be made for the claimant and the representative to review a copy of the evidence of record at the local FO before the hearing is conducted, or through use of document cameras to display documents on the day of the hearing. Alternatively, if the claimant is represented, the HO may provide the representative with a copy of the proposed exhibit list to review prior to hearing. The representative may then request copies of any documents he or she does not already have.

Upon their arrival at the hearing room, the claimant and representative will be provided the following information about participating in a hearing by VTC:

  • The hearing is conducted in the same way as an in-person hearing except that the ALJ will communicate through the video teleconference monitor.

  • If an expert witness is scheduled to appear by VTC, explain where the witness is located and that the claimant will be able to see, hear and speak to the expert witness through the VTC monitor.

  • An audio (but not a video) recording will be made of the proceedings by the hearing monitor. Only one person should speak at a time to avoid over-riding any speech.

  • Any evidence brought to the hearing may be faxed to the ALJ using facsimile equipment available at the hearing site.

If the SSA network is being used, the ALJ can direct control of the cameras at both the HO and the remote site. Therefore, the ALJ should ensure that each hearing participant can be seen by all other hearing participants, when speaking or testifying. If remote control of the camera is not available, the ALJ and the hearing monitor must coordinate the placement of individuals to ensure that they can be seen.

IV. Management Information

CPMS Scheduling

When scheduling an appearance by VTC in CPMS, the user should select the “VTC” event type and the hearing site. CPMS scheduling screens for VTC events require the user to select a site code for each participant at the hearing. In order to make full use of the CPMS database for scheduling and generating correct notices using DGS, the Division of Electronic Services maintains the CPMS tables dealing with expert witnesses and hearing sites. These are nationwide tables that facilitate scheduling sites and experts nationwide. The 7 digit site code in the table will be assigned by the servicing HO. The convention is two digits for the hearing office followed by “v” if video-equipped, followed by a number. The site name should also be descriptive for a user in another hearing office. Video-equipped sites should be designated as such. Off-network sites that do not belong to SSA (e.g., schools or prisons) need an assigned site code created by the servicing HO. Multiple video units require one site code for each unit. We suggest use of the instructions field to enter useful information such as the dial-up extension number or room numbers when there are multiple units.

V. Inquiries

HO personnel should direct any questions to their Regional Office. Regional Office personnel should contact the Office of the Chief Administrative Law Judge at (703) 605-8500.

VI. Attachments

Attachment 1 — [Link to] Final rules with request for comment (February 3, 2003)

Final rules (December 11, 2003)

Attachment 2 — [Link to] Pamphlet — “Why You Should Have Your Hearing By Video”