What to Expect at a Disability Hearing During COVID-19
The Social Security Administration is currently allowing claimants to decide whether they will accept an in-person hearing at an unknown future time or opt for a scheduled telephonic hearing instead. Most of our clients are opting for the telephonic hearing, primarily because it’s unclear when in-person hearings will resume. A claimant already waits one to two years from the filing so the idea of waiting another year or more for an in-person hearing, especially when the claimant is unable to work, is daunting. The telephonic hearings are not perfect. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) conducting the hearing will not have the visual cues that they might otherwise rely on. The quality of the phone connection is not always as clear as we would like. On the other hand, a telephonic hearing has its perks. Claimants are generally less anxious testifying in the comfort of their home. Snow day cancellations won’t happen. Most importantly, claimants won’t contract COVID-19.
The Office of Hearings and Operations will conference call the ALJ, the claimant, the claimant’s attorney, the vocational expert and the hearing monitor at the time of the scheduled hearing. The ALJ will swear in the claimant and the vocational expert over the phone. The ALJ will ask the claimant for identifying information and request that the various parties be in a private area away from other people. The hearing will then proceed as normal. The benefits of a telephonic hearing, while not ideal, far outweigh the risks of an in-person hearing particularly for the vulnerable population fighting for disability benefits.