In response to the coronavirus, the Social Security Administration (SSA) shut its doors to walk-in services in mid-March, remaining open for business only via its website, telephone, mail and fax, and allowing in-person appointments with strict controls to prevent COVID-19 exposure. For Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claimants whose applications are pending at the third level of the application and appeals process – a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) – the hearing options became either to wait until on-site hearings resume sometime in the future or to have a hearing via telephone.
The agency says it since March it has held more than 180,000 ALJ telephone hearings.
Internet-based video ALJ hearings
The agency announced in a Sept. 3 news release that it will begin to offer a third option sometime this fall: An Internet-based video ALJ hearing. The online video hearings will be accessible from desktop or laptop computers, tablets or smartphones (with cameras) via the video platform Microsoft Teams at no cost to claimants.
What will video hearings look like?
The SSA explains that video hearings will be a lot like in-person proceedings. The ALJ, claimant and claimant’s attorney will all participate via video. The claimant will testify and the ALJ and lawyer can ask them questions on the record. Should a vocational or medical expert or a language interpreter need to participate, they will interface with the video platform via telephone.
What happens next?
Phone hearings will continue and the video hearing option when available will give claimants another coronavirus-safe option. According to the SSA, until the COVID-19 pandemic allows safer interactions, these two ALJ hearing options will be the only choices for claimants. Otherwise, they will have to wait for face-to-face hearings to begin again, which may not be a good option for most of them since they have serious impairments and may be in financial distress.
The agency says that when video hearings are scheduled again, it will prioritize hearings for claimants who are critically ill and over 65.