Hearings During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By now, most people have adapted to a world in which COVID-19 exists. Businesses, schools, and other agencies are re-opening their doors everyday in an effort to return to normalcy. One agency that remains adamant in its closure is none other than the Social Security Administration. Despite the importance of having these offices open to the public, the administration has not provided a plan for in-person operations to commence any time soon. Granted, the administration works with a highly vulnerable population.

What does this mean if I am waiting for a hearing before an administrative law judge?

Well, it means a couple of things, but first and foremost, unless you are willing to wait an undisclosed amount of time to appear before a judge in person, your hearing will have to be remote. In the last year, Social Security has been conducting hearings over the phone, and until recently, through Microsoft Teams video conferences. Before COVID-19 ever existed, phone hearings were reserved for limited occasions such as when a claimant was unable to leave their home and travel to a hearing, whether it be due to underlying conditions, or lack of transportation. However, with in-person hearings no longer a possibility, claimants can now choose between a phone hearing or a video hearing.

The good news is that in the last year and a half, it has been made clear that opting to have your hearing conducted remotely has had no adverse effects on the outcomes of hearings. Our firm has made a monumental effort to reach out to every client awaiting a hearing to discuss whether they prefer having a hearing over the phone or “face to face” via Microsoft Teams.

Which is better then? Phone or video?

What is great about both of these options is that they require no travel, allowing you to attend your hearing from the comfort of your home. It also eliminates anxiety that many claimants face when leaving the home and traveling to a new place.

When it comes to deciding between the two however, here are some things to consider: Do I have the necessary equipment for either a phone or video hearing? The beauty of the phone hearing is that on the day of your scheduled hearing, the judge calls you, and you are immediately transferred into a conference call with your attorney. Simple enough. All you need is a cell phone, signal, and a quiet place to take the call. Hearings are typically about 30-60 minutes long, so even if you need to borrow a phone from a friend, it is unlikely that you will need to borrow it for more than an hour.

For video hearings, you will need a smartphone, a computer, or a tablet with a camera, microphone, and internet capabilities. iPhones work just fine for video hearings but remember to be in a quiet place and keep the phone steady. We have already encountered situations with our clients holding the phone and moving about during the hearing and this can be rather distracting for the judge. We want the judge to focus on you so make sure to set the phone down in one place and take a few steps back to ensure that the judge can see you – all of you – not just your eyeball. On the day of the hearing, claimants can access the remote hearing through a link that Social Security emails to you beforehand. Claimants will want to download Microsoft Teams beforehand so that they have a platform to join the hearing. While video hearings on this scale are relatively new, our office is conducting trial runs of video meetings well before the hearings so you and your attorney will meet and talk in a video format. Rest assured that you will be prepared for the video format the day of your hearing.

Don’t have the capability of a video hearing just yet? Or do you refer being with your attorney in person? We do too! We miss our clients, so we have equipped our building with multiple private offices where you can hold your video hearing in person sitting next to your attorney. While the Social Security Hearings offices remain closed, our office anticipates fully opening to the public soon, but if you have a video hearing and want to see if you can come into our office now, just give us a call! With the majority of our staff and all of our attorneys fully vaccinated, we are excited to be able to offer our clients the ability to conduct their video hearings from our offices beside their attorneys. While it is our top priority to keep staff and clients safe and healthy, local claimants without access to a smartphone or tablet and who are interested in having a video hearing, should give us a call.

I’ve made my decision. Now what?

Don’t want to wait? You don’t have to! For claimants who are anticipating a hearing for their claim, and who have been getting regular medical care, scheduling a hearing may be the next step. If you have decided that you do in fact want to opt into one of Social Security’s remote hearing options, give our office a call at 503-255-9092 and let your case manager know. We are happy to answer logistical questions and provide you with the status of your claim. Still not sure? Call us or email us and we will have an attorney review your case.

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