Since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) 1,200 field offices have been closed and the agency is accepting in-person visits to their local offices only by appointment and only in “dire need” situations (for more on the office closings see “Social Security Offices Are Open, but Only for Some”). Additionally, in-person disability appeal hearings were shut down due to concerns about spreading the virus, and hearings have only been conducted by telephone for the past several months.
Recently, however, the SSA announced that it will soon be offering the option of hearings with a Social Security Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) by video. SSA Deputy Commissioner Teri Gruber said the agency is still getting everything ready, but she expects that the hearings currently being scheduled for November and future months may have the option of video hearings. However, it seems that ALJs and others will not all get the technology to do video hearings at the same time, and the precise timeframe for video hearings has not been determined. The process also may not be the same for all ALJs and all hearing offices.
The video hearings will be conducted online via computers, tablets and phones using Microsoft Teams software. SSA believes this software works on a variety of devices, is secure, and allows for accurate audio recordings of hearings. Microsoft Teams is a free software program. To learn more about this software and to sign up visit the Microsoft Teams website.
Since phone hearings will still be offered, disability claimants will have the option of choosing either a video or phone hearing. As a disability claimant, you will still have the right to opt for an in-person hearing. In normal times, we at Nash Disability Law prefer in-person hearings. In large part, a disability case hinges on whether or not an ALJ believes your conditions are as limiting as you say they are. It is our experience that it is easier for the judge to assess this sincerity in-person, face-to-face, rather than through a television screen. Also, it is easier to read body language and pick up on nuances in-person rather than through camera shots transmitted to a screen. Additionally, video hearings can be plagued by technical problems. Blurry video, audio delays, power interruptions, and all kinds of other technical glitches can happen at video hearings.
However, as we all know, these are not normal times. Social Security has made no decision on when in-person hearings will return. If you opt out of both video and phone hearings, your claim could be frozen for what could be a long time. It is our recommendation to proceed with a video hearing. Even though it is not ideal, it is preferable to months of struggling financially while waiting for live hearings to return.
The SSA still has a lot of details about video hearings to iron out, and we’ll stay on top of this evolving situation. If you have questions about filing for Social Security disability benefits, we encourage you to call or email our office for free advice regarding your specific situation.