The Social Security Administration has disabled in-person disability hearings amidst the COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing measures. Since most of the SSA staff is working remotely, the SSA closed its hearing offices and has currently only online video hearings facility for disability claimants. If you have subscribed to participate in a disability hearings process through online video, we understand it may seem complicated and risky. Hence our Social Security Attorneys have compiled some tips for you to aide in your online video hearings process:
What happens on the video hearing day?
If you have signed in to participate in the online video hearing, the SSA will email you a link for the Microsoft Team to set up, access and participate in the online meeting with your Administrative Law Judge. You can also visit ssdi online hearing guide to learn more about the hearing options during Covid-19 lockdown.
Tips on Preparing for Social Security Disability Appeals during COVID-19 Lockdown
To ensure smooth participation in your online video hearing and avoid any network/signal cuts, we recommend you prepare your devices in advance. Here is how you can do it:
- Personal Computer/Laptop Computer: Once you receive the SSA's link for Microsoft Team regarding your online hearing, click the link and test your connection. If you have a web browser that supports Microsoft Teams, you will see Microsoft Teams open. If your web browser does not support Microsoft Teams, you will be prompted to download the free application. If you have technical difficulties, contact the hearing office. To find your hearing office's phone number. You can also visit the SSA's Appeals Locator to help with technical problems.
- Mobile device (Apple/Android): If you plan on participating in the online video hearing using your mobile device, you will be prompted to download the free Microsoft Teams application from the Google Play Store. Once you've done that you can click on the link for online video hearing sent by the SSA. Also, before the scheduled date of your online video hearing, the SSA will notify you with an email to a reminder with the link to your online video hearing. Tip: Click the link 15 minutes prior to your online video hearing to avoid delays and technical problems in the video hearing.
Once the online video hearing commences, your administrative law judge will conduct the hearing in the same way as in-person and telephone hearings. You will be able to hear and see the ALJ in an online video hearing. The ALJ will ask you and any witness(es) to take an oath or affirm that your testimony is true. You will have a chance to testify and tell the ALJ about your case, and the ALJ may ask you and any witness(es) questions to help make a decision in your case. You also will have the opportunity to ask questions during the hearing. Moreover, the SSA allows you to participate in the hearing along with your representative, if you have one appointed.
With that said, let us see what happens in your social security ALJ hearing and how you can avoid the common mishaps:
1. You as the claimant would need documentations: The administrative law judge, ALJ would ask you for all kinds of documental evidence ranging from medical documents, physician statements, neurological disorders, substantial gainful activity reports, past employment and educational background. Hence, it is very important that you keep all the documents handy when required. The judge would also ask you how the medical impairment or disability affects your physical and work life. You also need to provide answers with complete honesty along with the documental proof.
2. You would need witnesses: You would be meeting all kinds of medical practitioners, general physicians, psychiatrists, or specialists depending on your medical impairment. Any of those professional people who could serve as your witness by providing an in-depth analysis report about your condition to the judge will increase your chances of winning. These individuals may be able to prove to the judge how your impairment or disability disables you to perform work under substantial gainful activity and what kind of activities you could actually take part in to.
3. Honest with yourself: The judge may ask you additional questions about your thoughts towards your disability or if you would like to perform some light work as advised by your practitioner. You would need to be completely honest with yourself and answer those questions as at the end of the day, only you can know how much pressure you could take on despite your disability.
4. Patience is the key: The decision can take up to 30 days to be made by the administrative law judge, ALJ. During this time, you may be granted the benefits but if the benefits are denied after the decision, then you may have to return the amount of those benefits to the SSA. Sometimes, the ALJ could provide you a bench decision (not final, based on the guess from the hearing), whether your claims would be approved or not.
How to Prepare for an Online Hearing?
An attorney can help you win: Your social security attorney or advocate would know your case in depth and would come from a place of deeper knowledge and neutral thinking than you. Where you might only be focused on 'winning' the case, your attorney would actually represent you in a better position to elevate your chances of winning. The social security attorney may also ask you in-depth questions about your medical impairment or disability to show the complete side of your story to the judge. In addition to appointing an attorney to guide you through the complicated processes of disability hearings, you may need to ensure all of the following:
- Secure Internet Connection: Ensure your personal computer or mobile device remains connected to a secured wireless or wired internet connection through a private connection (private location). An example of a secure network is your home or at office.
- Continuous Power Source: Make sure that your device is connected to a nearby power source, to charge your computer or mobile device, if needed.
- Notify of any technical issues: If your camera, microphone or speakers are not working properly, you must notify the ALJ of the technical issues as soon as you experience them during your online hearing. In the event you become disconnected during your online video hearing, please attempt to reconnect as quickly as possible. If the ALJ is unable to continue the hearing, he or she may reschedule the hearing for a later date.
You can also visit SSA's Online Disability Appeals Hearing Guide for additional information about any technical requirements to appear by video using Microsoft Teams.