At the end of March 2020 due to Covid-19, the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Office of Hearings and Operations (OHO) moved from in person hearings to telephone hearings at the Atlanta downtown OHO, Covington OHO, Alpharetta OHO, Savannah OHO, Macon OHO, Savannah OHO, and Augusta OHO in Georgia, as well as across the nation. https://www.ssa.gov/appeals/ho_locator.html. This expeditious transition allowed social security disability claimants during the pandemic, who have been in desperate need of financial assistance, housing and health insurance, to move forward with phone hearings with Administrative Law Judges (ALJs).
Several sources from within SSA told the Law Offices of Kathleen M Flynn, LLC www.kathleenflynnlaw.com that some attorneys and representatives have refused to do phone hearings. A phone hearing has its disadvantages such as the inability of an ALJ to observe a claimant who may have difficulty ambulating into the hearing room with a cane or walker or whose hands are trembling due to side effects from medication. The disability lawyer has to help the ALJ visualize the disability client’s mental and physical impairments through detailed questioning.
At an unknown future date, SSA’s OHO will be transitioning toward online video hearings focusing on the “most critical and aged cases.” Critical cases include the following : https://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/hallex/I-02/I-2-1-40.html: terminal illness ie TERI; 100 percent permanent and totally disabled veteran; a veteran who was injured on active duty status on or after October 1, 2001; or a compassionate allowance as set forth in https://secure.ssa.gov/apps10/poms.nsf/lnx/0423022080 For video hearings, SSA states that they will be using Microsoft Teams with a secure agency server. The claimant, his/her representative and the ALJ will able to see each other by video.
The claimant and the disability attorney can be together in the disability attorney’s office or the claimant can be at his/her residence, as long as no one else is in the room. SSA has said that vocational experts will be testifying by phone only. Vocational experts address the claimant’s work in the past 15 years and whether other jobs can be performed in the regional or national economy based upon mental and physical limitations found by treating sources, examining sources, or SSA non-examining sources who reviewed the files.
Medical experts will be testifying by phone as well according to SSA. Most ALJs do not use medical experts except for child SSI cases or cases that have been remanded from the Appeals Councils following a prior unfavorable decision. The Appeals Council may specify in the remand order that the ALJ use a medical expert at the hearing with the ALJ who hears the case twice before another ALJ is assigned. ALJs usually ask the medical expert whether a claimant’s physical or mental disabilities meet or equal a medical listing of impairments. https://www.ssa.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook/AdultListings.htm or which mental or physical limitations the claimant has called a residual functional capacity assessment. https://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/hallex/I-02/I-2-6-70.html
According to SSA, video hearings, like phone hearings, will be optional and not mandatory. www.ssa.gov/appeals/hearing-options. Instead of calling, OHO will send the unrepresented claimant or disability attorney a COVID-19 Telephone Hearing Agreement form which will address below:
- The claimant or representative will indicate on the form if the claimant agrees to a hearing by telephone, and if so, provide phone numbers to reach them for the hearing.
- The representative may sign the form in lieu of the claimant.
- We also will accept a verbal agreement to appear by telephone.
- We will not schedule, or proceed with a hearing by telephone unless we receive the claimant’s consent. If the claimant does not consent to appear by telephone, we will not schedule the hearing at this time, or if already scheduled, we will postpone the hearing until we can offer another option, such as a hearing by video teleconferencing or in person, as appropriate. https://www.ssa.gov/appeals/hearing_options.html
SSA has reported that their offices will be closed to the public for the “foreseeable future.”
If you are in need of social security disability benefits or service connected veteran’s benefits, please visit our website at www.kathleenflynnlaw.com or call our disability lawyers and staff at 404-479-4431 to learn how you can receive SSI, SSDI (DIB) and veteran’s benefits. #veterans service connected benefits #social security disability #SSI #SSDI #child SSI #disability attorney #disability lawyer