Note: We updated this article in March 2022 to reflect current SSA hearing policies during the Covid-19 pandemic. In March 2020, the Social Security Administration (SSA) closed all hearing offices to the general public due to a global pandemic. Since then, most people scheduled Social Security disability (SSD) phone or video hearings rather than appearing in-person before judges. Video technology allows claimants and/or their legal representatives to attend SSD hearings virtually. Because video hearings are becoming more common, here is everything you need to know about them in advance.
What Are Video Hearings?
A video conference with an administrative law judge is just like an in-person hearing. The main difference is that the judge sits in his or her office while you use a computer to sign in remotely and appear on-screen. In late 2020, all local SSA offices began offering video hearings using a free software program called Microsoft Teams.
Starting in May 2022, the SSA may schedule in-office hearings on a limited basis for priority cases only. Until then, telephone and video hearings are the only way to appeal your Social Security disability denial before a judge.
What Equipment Do You Need to Attend Video Hearings?
You need three things to make online video hearings an option for your appeal:
- An email account you can check regularly for status updates, reminders, and a link that connects you to your online hearing.
- An internet-enabled device where you can install Microsoft Teams software prior to your hearing date.
- A quiet, private room where you can sign into your hearing and participate live on camera. Loud, shared spaces make it difficult for you to hear what the judge is saying and for others to hear when you speak.
Not sure if you have the right kind of device you’ll need to attend video hearings online? Anyone can download and install Microsoft Teams onto the following WiFi-enabled devices:
- Your smartphone
- Tablet (i.e., Amazon Fire, iPad, Microsoft Surface, etc.)
- Laptop or desktop computer
You don’t need to invest in any special technology to attend video hearings. All you need is a device equipped with speakers, a microphone, camera, and internet connection. The meeting will proceed exactly how an in-person hearing would.
4 Ways to Request Video Hearings
You must request your appeals hearing within 60 days after the date your denial letter arrives by mail. There are four different ways to request video hearings:
- Download, print, fill out and form HA-501, Request for Hearing By Administrative Law Judge. Then, sign and return that form by mail to your local Social Security office.
- Mail a letter to your local Social Security office requesting a hearing to appeal your case before a judge.
- Submit your request online via the SSA’s disability appeal page. If you don’t have internet or computer access at home, plan to spend at least 60 minutes on this task.
- Have your attorney or advocate request a hearing on your behalf.
No matter how you choose to submit your request, you must also complete, sign and return these two additional forms:
Other Helpful Tips to Make Remote Hearings Go Smoothly
Want the best possible chance of winning benefits at your hearing? Follow these helpful tips:
- Use the SSA’s Online Video Hearing Lobby to set up and test your device before your hearing date. The SSA’s User Guide can help you troubleshoot any issues.
- Plug in your device or keep a charger handy so you don’t lose power. Using a mobile phone or tablet? Make sure your battery has enough charge to last at least 90 minutes. Keep your computer plugged in during your hearing, if applicable.
- Make sure your device has a good connection and sound quality. For telephone hearings, a landline always works best. Find a private location with good reception if you’re using a mobile phone.
- Be prepared at least 15 minutes ahead of your hearing’s time. Go to the bathroom beforehand and avoid eating/drinking during your hearing, if possible. For online video hearings, click the link in your email about 10-15 minutes prior to your scheduled start time.
- Keep your microphone muted unless you need to speak. Even if it seems quiet where you are, background noise can make it harder to hear clearly.
- Dress professionally and have all documents you may need to reference quickly within reach. This may include work history, updated medical records, or new evidence that better supports your disability claim.
- Blur your background or choose a neutral location to sit/stand in front of whenever you’re on camera. A plain white wall makes a much better impression than a poster of a woman in a bikini, for example.
- Be polite, direct, and never interrupt the judge. Your representative can help you practice answering questions ahead of time, if you have one. Otherwise, give clear, short answers to questions and never minimize or exaggerate your symptoms.
You May Qualify for Legal Assistance
Having a Social Security attorney or advocate file your paperwork nearly triples your chances of getting disability benefits. In fact, 4 out of 5 SSD applicants have legal representation at their appeals hearings.
Lawyers can help complete your initial application, speed the claim process up and even handle your appeal, if needed. They can also pay for doctor’s visits, medical records, and communicate with the SSA on your behalf. Those who qualify for legal assistance through this website typically get at least $12,000 in lump-sum backpay as well as monthly benefits. People who apply on their own without legal assistance typically wait 1-2 years to receive SSD benefits, if approved.
Ready to see if you may qualify? Click the button below to start your free online benefits evaluation now!
Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.