Although they are not used often, telephone disability hearings have risen in prominence in the time of COVID-19. The Social Security Administration (SSA) began conducting disability hearings for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) in late March 2020. Here, we discuss some of the ins and outs of telephone hearings.
You have the right to appeal SSA’s decision on whether you are eligible for disability benefits, and that may lead to you requesting a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The preferred methods to conduct these hearings are in-person or via video teleconference, but a telephone conference may be conducted in extraordinary circumstances, such as COVID-19.
Prior to the pandemic, telephone hearings were limited to circumstances such as incarceration, natural disasters, institutionalization, or very unusual situations that were directly related to the potential beneficiary’s inability to attend a hearing in person due to his or her disability. In such cases, the claimant does not have the ability to object to having the hearing held via telephone.
Hearings that are conducted by telephone must follow the same format as they would if they were held in-person. You will still have the opportunity to appoint a representative, submit additional evidence, review your file, and present and question any witnesses.
Because of COVID-19, SSA will now send a Telephone Hearing Agreement Form to your representative instead of you, if applicable, and your representative may sign the form on your behalf. Doing so speeds up the scheduling process. SSA will not schedule you for a telephone hearing unless it receives your consent, and it will postpone your hearing if it was already scheduled and you did not agree to proceed with a telephone hearing.
Just like with an in-person hearing, you, your representative (if applicable), the ALJ, and the hearing reporter will be present by telephone. An interpreter, vocational expert, or medical expert may also be present by telephone.
To prepare for your telephone hearing, make sure that you are available to answer your phone at the appointed time, and try to find a quiet place where you can be alone to testify. If you have the option to talk over a landline or a cell phone, choose the landline to ensure better sound quality and a better connection. If you need to talk on a cell phone, make sure the phone is sufficiently charged to allow for a conversation lasting at least 1.5 hours; when you are not speaking, put yourself on mute to reduce background noise.