Due to recent events, the SSA has temporarily closed its hearing offices. As such, they are now conducting most disability hearings over the phone or online.
Telephone hearings aren’t mandatory for disability claims. But with the SSA limiting in-person services for the foreseeable future, getting an in-person hearing schedule can take months (or years). So doing one over the phone can help you get a disability decision faster.
If you’re scheduled for a disability hearing over the phone, here’s a quick guide on how it works and what you can expect.
How Over-the-Phone Disability Hearings Work
Over-the-phone disability hearings work just like regular disability hearings. But since they’re conducted by phone, you won’t be able to see the judge and other participants. Nor can they see you. It may also present some logistical and technical challenges on your part.
To request a disability hearing, you need to submit a Request for Hearing Form (SSA-501) to the SSA. They will then send you a notice acknowledging receipt of your request.
After 30 days, the SSA will send you a special notice to confirm your consent to a telephone hearing. Note that the SSA will not schedule your telephone hearing without your consent. So you or your representative should sign this notice and return it to the SSA.
Sometimes, an SSA staff may also contact you or your representative to get verbal consent. If you can’t decide on the spot, you may also ask the SSA to postpone your hearing. Though doing so may also delay your disability decision.
Once your hearing schedule is confirmed, the SSA will send you another notice. It will contain your schedule as well as instructions for the hearing.
If a phone hearing isn’t your thing, you can also opt to have it through online video conferencing. Or, if you can, wait for an in-person hearing slot to open.
What to Expect in a Disability Hearing Over the Phone
The procedure for disability hearings will remain the same whether it’s in-person, by phone, or online. That said, here’s what you can expect on the day of your hearing.
Before the hearing starts, an SSA staff will call you to make sure that you’re available and ready for it. You can also take this time to check if your phone or audio devices yeah are working properly.
Just like regular disability hearings, telephone hearings will have multiple attendants. This includes:
- the claimant (you)
your lawyer or representative (if any)
- the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
- any witnesses (physicians, psychologists, etc.)
- a vocational expert (if any)
- translator/interpreter (if needed)
- hearing reporter
At the start of the hearing, the ALJ will swear in all the participants and administer the oath. Then you can give your sworn testimony. You can also present witnesses to prove that your condition indeed meets the SSA’s definition of disability.
The judge may also ask you questions about your past work and current impairments or limitations. You’ll also have the opportunity to ask questions in return.
After the hearing, you will receive the judge’s decision by mail. This usually takes anywhere from 6 weeks to three months. Though this timeframe can be longer depending on the judge and how heavy the caseload is for that specific SSA office.
If you don’t agree with the judge’s decision, you can request a review by the Appeals Council. But remember that you only have 60 days to do so. If your claim is still denied, you can take your case to the federal courts.
How to Ace Your Disability Hearing
The disability hearing will probably be your only chance to present your case before an ALJ. So if you want to get approved for benefits, you should give it your best shot.
That said, here are some tips on how you can prepare and ace your disability hearing over the phone.
1. Find a quiet place where you can be alone.
One of the first things you should do when attending a phone hearing is to find a place free from noise and distractions. It can be your room or a nook in your home where no one is likely to walk in on you during the hearing. This will help you concentrate on the hearing and prevent any miscommunications.
2. Use a landline phone, if possible.
Cellular reception can fluctuate depending on where you live. So the SSA recommends using a trusty old landline phone if possible. They tend to have a better connection, helping you avoid getting suddenly disconnected in the middle of the hearing.
3. If using a mobile phone, make sure that it’s fully charged.
Disability hearings can last from 30 minutes to an hour. Though it can last longer if you have a bunch of witnesses or if your case is complicated. That’s why the SSA recommends making sure your phone has enough power to last at least 90 minutes of talk time.
4. Speak clearly.
When giving your testimony or answering questions, make sure to speak slowly and clearly. Remember that the other participants won’t see you. They’ll only rely on your voice over the phone. If they can’t understand what you’re saying, it may affect the judge’s decision on your case.
5. Present witnesses.
Statistics suggest that you’re 1.5 times more likely to get approved if you present testimony from a medical expert. This makes sense since the judge is more likely to believe a medical expert’s opinion than unsubstantiated claims. So as much as possible, get a medical expert to explain your condition to the judge.
VICTOR MALCA – Florida Workers Compensation & Social Security Disability Attorney
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About The Author
Judy Ponio is a writer and editor for the Victor Malca Law P.A. website and blog. She enjoys helping people in need with questions about social security disability and workers compensation law. She has a passion for helping those in need and the elderly with accurate legal information that can make a positive difference in their lives.