Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Social Security disability hearing offices are closed to the public, so there can be no face-to-face hearings in cases on appeal. The Office of Hearing Operations has offered to hold telephone hearings instead. I have now participated in three phone hearings; the results have been a mixed bag.
One hearing only lasted a few minutes. Medical testimony was taken fully favorable to the claimant, so the hearing did not have to take any longer. There were no technical problems with phone connections.
The next was unusually long for a disability hearing, about 90 minutes. The judge was trying to be very clear and thorough with her questions. Telephone connections were good. The claimant actually testified from his car by cell phone, because his cell service at home is poor. After the hearing, he felt that the phone hearing had worked well.
There were multiple technical problems with the third hearing, which started 40 minutes late due to problems with connections. About 10 minutes into the hearing, one of the connections started to crackle and drop out. A few minutes later the recording equipment failed as well and could not be restarted. The hearing had to be postponed. This was especially unfortunate, as the claimant was testifying from a bed in a hospital.
A few general observations:
- Phone hearings are being offered to keep cases moving, but you do not have to accept a phone hearing. If you decline, your case will be rescheduled in about 2-3 months; we hope that face-to-face hearings will be restored by then.
- If you have a phone hearing, make sure to use a reliable phone connection. If you use a cell phone, it must be fully charged and in a location with dependable service. Make sure you have enough minutes for a hearing that could last an hour or more. Choose a room or other location where you will be alone and undisturbed by people or noise. Make sure the judge knows the telephone number where you can be reached.
- At the start of the hearing, the judge will ask you to confirm that you are alone and others cannot hear your conversation, that your testimony is not being coached by any means and that you are not recording the hearing.
- Be patient; each of the hearings described above started at least a few minutes late. Do not make or receive other calls on your phone while you are waiting for the judge to call.