Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has temporarily changed how disability hearings function. Due to social distancing requirements, all Social Security district and field offices and hearing offices have been closed, and in-person hearings have been canceled for the foreseeable future.
Social Security Disability Hearing Options During COVID-19 Pandemic
However, people who are applying for SSDI and or SSI benefits still need help. Therefore, the Social Security Administration has given claimants with scheduled hearing dates three options:
- Claimants can choose to postpone their hearing until Coronavirus-related restrictions have been lifted and normal operations resume. SSA will then reschedule their hearing.
- SSDI/SSI claimants can keep their scheduled hearing date and opt for a telephone hearing instead. The Administrative Law Judge [“ALJ”], attorney, claimant, and vocational/medical experts who would have been present at the hearing will all participate from their homes via telephone (a multi-person telephone conference call).
- Claimants may also choose to have a video hearing at a Social Security attorney’s office if the attorney has been certified to do so (which most have not).
Should I Agree to A Telephone Hearing?
Most Social Security Disability attorneys are concerned about the effectiveness of claimants participating in telephone hearings for their Social Security disability case. If you have mental impairments or physical impairments that cannot be seen on x-rays or MRI scans, it may be more difficult for the judge to understand the severity of and extent of your conditions if they do not meet with you in person (for example the ALJ will not be able to see if you walk with a limp, have difficulty sitting down or standing up or sitting for prolonged periods, or have other physical signs of your impairments, including signs of anxiety or panic). It may also be more difficult to establish credibility over the telephone since the judge will not be meeting you face to face.
However, postponing your hearing rather than opting for a telephone hearing is not the best option for every claimant. Nobody knows when Social Security Administration offices will reopen, so you may need to wait a very long time for your hearing to be rescheduled if you do not want to do it over the telephone.
Factors to Consider When Making a Decision
There is no one-size-fits-all answer for whether you should choose a telephone hearing for your SSDI/SSI disability case. Your Social Security disability attorney should consider many factors before advising you, including:
- The ALJ that has been assigned to hear your case
- The nature of your physical and or mental impairments
- The strength of your claim
- Your financial circumstances
- And more.
However, ultimately, it is up to you whether or not to participate in a telephone hearing, after your attorney discusses the above factors with you.
Contact Sara J. Frankel for Consultation
At the Law Offices of Sara J. Frankel and Associates, we can advise you which option is best for your case. If we believe that you have a strong case with overwhelming evidence, a telephone hearing may work for you. If not, you may have to wait until in-person hearings resume.