On March 17, 2020, Social Security offices closed for in-person services, including disability hearings. As of January 2021, Social Security offices remain closed and there is no estimated date for re-opening during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Yet, the need for Social Security disability benefits and the Social Security Administration's work has not stopped. If your application for Social Security disability benefits was denied, then you may need to appeal as soon as possible.
Social Security Administration Hearing Video Conferences are Not New
The Social Security Administration offered a video conference option for disability hearings for several years before the novel coronavirus emerged. Before the pandemic, video conferences often still required applicants to travel to their lawyer's office, hearing office, or Social Security field office.
During the pandemic, the Social Security Administration will offer a new option, via a free platform known as Microsoft (MS) Teams, so that applicants can remain safely at home while attending a Social Security disability hearing.
Disability Hearing Options During Covid-19
Until the pandemic subsides and Social Security Administration offices re-open, people seeking disability hearings will be asked to complete the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Hearing Agreement form. On this form you will indicate whether you want a telephone hearing, a video hearing, the first available type of hearing, or if you want to wait for an in-person hearing. Your lawyer can provide consent for you if you are represented by an attorney. The Social Security Administration will not schedule an in-person hearing, nor will it provide any estimate about when in-person hearings will resume if you choose not to pursue a telephone or video hearing.
How Video Hearings Work
If you want a video hearing, you will need:
- Email access so that the Social Security Administration can provide you with hearing information
- A cell phone, computer, or tablet that has a camera, microphone, and speakers. You must also be able to download and install MS Teams on the device.
- High-speed internet or WiFi data connection
- A quiet space to attend the hearing
The Social Security disability hearing rules are the same whether the video is conducted in person, by telephone, or by video. You will not give up any of your rights by agreeing to have the hearing via video even though you, the administrative law judge, your attorney, and anyone else involved in the hearing will be attending remotely.
Your hearing is your chance to explain why you are eligible for Social Security disability benefits even though your initial application was rejected. An experienced Social Security disability lawyer can help you gather the necessary evidence and convincingly present your claim. If the administrative law judge finds against you, then you may need to go to the appeals council or United States District Court to get disability benefits, which can be time-consuming, expensive, and frustrating. Therefore, it's essential to put a strong case together for your hearing.
Don't Let Technology Stand in the Way of Getting Social Security Disability Benefits
Many Social Security disability applicants are new to MS Teams and online meetings. You may be concerned about accessing the meeting and protecting your rights. You are not alone. The Social Security Administration provides video hearing guidance about setting up your device, turning on and off your microphone, turning on and off your video camera, entering the meeting, exiting the meeting, and other frequently asked questions. Additionally, your Social Security disability lawyer's office will make sure that you are prepared for the hearing and that all of your legal and technological questions are answered before your hearing date.
Please contact Keefe Disability Law today to learn more about your hearing options and how to protect your rights. Our lawyers primarily represent people seeking Social Security disability benefits in New England. If you have a claim in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, or New Hampshire, then we encourage you to contact us today for a free consultation to discuss your legal options.