Normally when someone applies for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), he or she is either found disabled and entitled to benefits, or that individual has to file a number of appeals in order to eventually get approved for benefits.
After applying for benefits and being initially denied, then being denied for reconsideration, the third step of this process involves a hearing with an administrative law judge (ALJ).
Normally this hearing takes place in a hearing office close to where the claimant resides in a small room, in person with an ALJ. These face-to-face hearings are invaluable because the ALJ can actually see the claimant and visualize his or her impairments.
For example, if a claimant has rheumatoid arthritis in his or her hands such that the finger joints are enlarged or deformed, the ALJ is able to see this and take these observations into consideration in assessing the claimant’s residual functional capacity (RFC), which the ALJ takes into account when evaluating your ability to work.
Telephone Hearings During COVID-19
Since March of 2020, the Social Security Administration has been conducting the ALJ hearings over the telephone due to the coronavirus pandemic. This is because it is impossible to safely conduct in-person hearings, especially for many claimants who may be immunocompromised due to their disability, condition, or age.
When a hearing is conducted over the telephone, all parties, including the claimant, Victorville Social Security attorney or representative, ALJ, vocational expert, medical expert, interpreter, etc., are contacted by telephone and engage in a conference call to conduct the hearing.
While the parties to this telephonic hearing are sworn in and expected to testify truthfully, as in an in-person hearing, there are some key factors that make a telephonic hearing significantly different from an in-person hearing.
All parties involved lose the sense of sight and the ability to visualize each other’s expressions and reactions, as well as the ability to see and evaluate visual symptoms such as deformities to the hands that might be caused by rheumatoid arthritis.
It is my opinion as an experienced Social Security attorney that telephonic hearings are simply not as productive as in-person hearings and, in fact, make it harder to establish disability.
One solution that could help mitigate some of these disadvantages would be to conduct a hearing using video conferencing; however, this solution is not currently available due to privacy concerns and equipment limitations.
Should I Postpone My Hearing Until It Can Be Done in Person?
The Social Security Administration has been giving claimants the opportunity to postpone their hearings if they want to wait for an in-person hearing; however, there is no estimate at this time of when face-to-face hearings will begin again.
As of this writing, we have been told that there will be no in-person hearings through at least September 2020. Furthermore, we have been advised that there will be no in-person hearings until the coronavirus is essentially “gone.”
Researchers are optimistically hoping to have an effective vaccine available in 2021. However, lacking a vaccine, expert opinions vary on when COVID-19 will be eradicated or even weakened to the degree that it’s not a major threat—although they do tend to agree that it won’t be any time in the next few months, or possibly even years.
Given the fact that there is no way to know when in-person hearings will resume, I have started advising my clients to proceed with a telephonic hearing, despite its obvious disadvantages. In order to move forward with your claim and have a chance at being approved and receiving benefits as soon as possible, you need to at least start the process, even though present circumstances make that process more difficult.
Your Victorville Social Security Attorney
As a trusted Victorville Social Security attorney, I am dedicated to giving your claim the highest possible chance of success by working closely with you to champion your case. Call The Law Offices of William M. Kuntz Social at (760) 561-5147 or contact us here to receive our expert legal assistance in your Social Security Disability Insurance benefits or Supplemental Security Income claim.