During the coronavirus pandemic the Social Security Administration has been offering claimants the option of (1) having a phone hearing, or (2) asking for a continuance until face to face hearings are again being offered (and nobody knows how long that will be). Social Security should be commended for offering hearings this way as the financial strain of further delay is too much for most Social Security clients to withstand.
A few weeks ago, our firm participated in a pilot program in which a hearing was held by video conference. We were in our office using a laptop camera, the judge was at his home using a computer camera, and our disability client was at his home using a cell phone camera. In our opinion, this is a better way to conduct a hearing than by phone as it appeals more to one’s sense of humanity. With the ability to observe facial expressions and movements, clients can come across as more distracted, more nervous, more emotionally unstable, more restless, more uncomfortable, more in pain, etc… than can usually be provided with just words on a phone.
On September 3, 2020, the Social Security Administration issued the following press release:
The Social Security Administration announced a new service for people awaiting a hearing decision. In addition to telephone hearings, Social Security will offer the opportunity for an online video hearing using the Microsoft Teams platform beginning this fall. This new free service will allow applicants and their representatives to participate in the hearing from anywhere they have access to a camera-enabled smartphone, tablet, or computer. This stable and secure online platform allows the Social Security judge to see and interact with applicants and their representatives just like an in-person hearing, while maintaining privacy of the claimant’s information. Other hearing experts, such as medical or vocational experts, may participate as well.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of finding new ways to serve the public,” said Commissioner of Social Security Andrew Saul. “For over a decade, the agency has used video hearings to get applicants their hearing decisions sooner. This advancement builds on that effort, making it easier and more convenient to attend a hearing remotely, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. To continue to ensure all participants’ safety, we expect online video hearings and telephone hearings will be the only two hearing options for the foreseeable future.”
Social Security has been conducting appeal hearings with Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) via telephone only since March, while offices remain closed to the public to protect the health and safety of the public and employees. The agency’s ALJs have held more than 180,000 telephone hearings since March, allowing the agency to continue to deliver critical customer service.
For the new online video hearings, whether the device is a laptop, smartphone, or tablet on either iPhone or Android, people will experience a clear picture and audio of the ALJ and their representative during their hearing.
For updates on the implementation and expansion of this new hearing service, and other Social Security information, please visit the agency’s COVID-19 web page at, www.socialsecurity.gov/coronavirus/.
While it is still unclear exactly when this option will be available to all disability claimants, our firm is excited about moving in this direction and away from phone hearings. While the best way of conducting a hearing is likely live and in person, Social Security’s new video hearing program is a close second.
If you are disabled and awaiting a hearing in front of one of Social Security’s Administrative Law Judges, you should have a lawyer represent you. Please give Smith Godios and Sorensen a call if you would like our assistance, we offer free consultations and you won’t need to pay us a fee unless we help you win your case.