Friday, February 17, 2012

SSA Should Reimburse Travel

I represented a former police officer at a Social Security Disability hearing in New Haven, Connecticut, which was nearly a 100 miles away from my office. The SSA refused to reimburse my travel expenses based on an antiquated rule.

The SSA stopped reimbursing attorneys to prevent situations where an attorney from New York could get reimbursed for travel to a hearing in Hawaii. The rule makes sense in that situation. However, I requested to appear via video conference, which the SSA refused to allow. If the SSA refuses to allow an attorney to appear via video conference, the way they allow experts and claimants, then the SSA should be required to pay the attorney's travel expenses.

There is no rule requiring an attorney to appear in person, nor should there be because the attorney does not provide sworn testimony. Moreover, refusing to pay travel expenses when an attorney has offered to appear by video is contrary to the SSA's pushing video appearance for experts in the name of efficiency. The refusal to pay expenses in these circumstances curtails a claimant's right to counsel of his choice, and favors nationwide companies for whom travel is far less of a burden.

I would love to hear the SSA's explanation for why an ALJ has the right to insist that an attorney appear in person when the ALJ has no qualms about allowing experts to do so.

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