For the past month SSA has been conducting their social security disability hearings by telephone in order to protect claimants, reps, and SSA employees. SSA currently plans to continue with telephonic hearings through the end of May. Many of our clients have asked us about how this process works and how it can affect their social security disability case. Now that we’ve had an opportunity to do quite a number of these hearings, we’ve had a number of useful insights:
- The telephonic hearings involve all of the same participants as would be present during an in-person disability hearing. The administrative law judge typically will have an SSA employee start a conference call connecting all of the participants (1) the judge (2) the attorney (3) the vocational expert (4) the court reporter and (5) a medical expert if needed.
- The attorney and the claimant do not have to be together when conducting the hearing. For this reason, if the claimant has any questions prior to the hearing, it’s a good idea to directly contact the attorney well in advance of the disability hearing.
- Clients still need to get all their paperwork signed and sent to the attorney's office. As long as all the paperwork is in, then the hearings usually run smoothly. If you as a client are unsure whether you have submitted all the required documents you can ask your attorney or case manager.
- Judges have been more compassionate, more patient, and more understanding with clients. The judges understand that everyone is doing the best they can under the current circumstances and that claimants are especially vulnerable at this time.
- There have been minimal connectivity problems. The SSA hearings office has been very well equipped and flexible in troubleshooting any IT issues that have arisen. One client did miss their hearing because they were in a location where their phone did not have good reception. Fortunately, the judge was willing to quickly reschedule a new hearing. It’s also important for clients to be in a quiet place to avoid interruptions during the hearing.
- When hearings have been postponed the hearings offices have been helpful in quickly rescheduling new hearings. Of course, we’ve been surprised how few hearings have been postponed. We’re extremely grateful to the Social Security Hearing Office for this.
- Telephonic hearings allow the attorneys to make better use of their office set up. All of our attorneys have multiple monitors they are able to access, which can be very useful during a telephonic hearing (but not possible during an in-person hearing). This has at times been helpful when the attorney presents the case.
- Decisions are coming back quicker. We’re not sure why this is the case, but we certainly appreciate the fast turnaround.
- Most clients have had a positive experience with telephonic hearings. Clients have understandably been nervous to conduct their hearing by telephone. However, most of them have been satisfied with the hearings and appreciate the fact that they don’t have to leave their home.