February 10, 2022
Last month, the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced that after a more than two year hiatus, in-person hearings will resume this spring. The early announcement provides SSA and the Office of Hearings Operations (OHO) with ample time to develop and implement a plan to ensure the safety of all parties who will be participating once in-person hearings resume. While the number of in-person hearings will be small to start, all Administrative Law Judges (ALJs), except for those who qualify for a medical exemption, will be required to hold in-person hearings – at least part-time – come June. With that, numbers are expected to gradually increase over the course of the summer.
Despite the move to reimplement in-person hearings, it is not expected that remote hearing options will be removed completely. It is very likely video and telephone hearing options will remain a part of the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) process going forward. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, telephone hearings were an option, but they were rare and required unique circumstances. Given the improvement and success remote hearing options have had over the past two years, we believe these options will remain available in the long-term, though it will be up to SSA and OHO to determine in what capacity. While SSA and OHO work to bring their processes back to pre-COVID “normal,” you should expect, and prepare for, a remote hearing. It is incredibly important to take the proper preparations ahead of your hearing to make the most of the process and set yourself up for the best possible outcome.
Preparing for a remote hearing
- Find a private, quiet location to participate in your hearing: Whether you will be participating via telephone or video, you will need a quiet, private area to participate. This means that you cannot participate in between running errands or with a family member working in the same room. If the ALJ feels the space you are in does not meet the privacy requirements, the proceeding may be halted or even postponed.
- Ensure you have a stable internet connection: While this is particularly important if you are engaging in a video hearing, if you are using a telephone that operates through the internet, a stable internet connection is a must. If you are unable to connect to the internet, or you keep losing your connection, the ALJ will be unable to hold your hearing and thus require a postponement.
- Have any necessary documents nearby: If you expect that you will need to reference documents such as notes or medical records to answer any questions, ensure the documents are near you prior to the start of the hearing. While the ALJ may give you a moment or two to reference notes every now and then, if you are consistently referring to paperwork that you must get up and spend significant time looking for, the ALJ may very likely choose to halt or postpone the hearing.
As Social Security begins the process of reopening their offices to the public and in-person hearings increase in frequency, amidst the ongoing pandemic, we can expect some delays to occur. At The Advocator Group, now operating as Brown & Brown Absence Services Group, we remain committed to supporting our clients through this process and continue to be prepared to attend all upcoming hearings, whether they are in-person or remote. We will continue to monitor announcements from SSA and will communicate any changes that may arise as the move to in-person hearings approaches.