Phone disability hearings started soon after the pandemic was declared. It is a safer method to keep the hearing calendar going, but there are drawbacks to the process.
The purpose of this post is to explain some of the pros and cons of the phone disability hearing. But I also wanted to go over some tricks so you can ace this!
The Phone Disability Hearing
This post contains affiliate links. I may make a commission from any purchases you make through these links without any extra cost to you. This is how I make sure this blog is available to help you with your claim journey
Before the pandemic hit, Social Security was already transitioning to video hearings.
Video hearings allowed judges from out of state to hear cases from anywhere without the need and cost of travel. These traveling judges were from locations where they were not as busy and they would help out with the overflow.
Claimants received forms where they would choose between in-person hearings or video hearings. Then the court would schedule the hearing accordingly.
Of course, that was when we still had the option of in-person hearings. These were more advantageous in cases of claimants with severe physical ailments and we attorneys loved them.
Now even video hearings are affected because the claimant and the attorney would still have to be present in the hearing office. Except, the judge would be in a monitor.
So with the pandemic, video hearings are also out.
Enters the phone disability hearing.
I honestly don’t like them and can’t imagine any attorney liking them too.
I will tell you why.
Pros and Cons of the Phone Disability Hearings
- Claimants don’t have to leave the house. No need to look for a ride or rearrange the schedules of loved ones to get there.
- You can be in bed, recliner, kitchen table, couch, etc., during your hearing. As long as you have the phone near you, you’re all set!
- You can be in your pajamas, have your dog on your lap (quietly, of course!).
- Claimants feel a bit better being in their own home.
- Great for mental impairment cases or mobility cases.
- Hearings are scheduled sooner and I have seen my state (Arizona), for example, shaving almost a year off the wait!
- Did I mention I don’t like phone disability hearings?
- If you walk with a limp, wince with pain, walk with poor posture, it is not good because the judge does not see you do these things.
- The phone system can drop the call several times during the hearing (It happened to me, several times).
- Hearings may have to be rescheduled after all that wait because the phone system is down.
- Very hard to hear the judge too.
- Because you can’t hear, you may misinterpret questions from the judge or the attorney
- For attorneys, we want to make good use of the time and some judges get impatient with repetition (when we can’t hear anything)
- I don’t like them (yes, that much!)
How to Improve Your Chances of Winning with a Phone Disability Hearing
Now that you know the pros and cons of a phone disability hearing, let’s go over the things you can do to overcome some of those (“con”) limitations.
The judge doesn’t see you:
This is a big one. If the judge can’t see you and how you are handling yourself at the hearing, he won’t know how difficult things are for you.
Your objective then is to help the judge “visualize” your issues by describing them really well and in detail. Don’t be too generic.
“My life is very difficult”. “I can’t do anything”.
This means nothing to the judge. It’s too generic.
“Walking more than 5 minutes causes a lot of pain on my feet”.
“I cannot lift more than half a gallon of milk or I will drop it”.
For the mental impairment cases it’s a bit easier but still get those details in:
“I can only leave the house for appointments. Even then, sometimes I have to reschedule when I have a panic attack”.
“I can only go grocery shopping at night when I know people are not around”.
“I forget to pay bills, so my friend will call me to remind me and will stay on the phone until I finish writing the check”
Give the judge numbers (5 minutes, 1 Lb, 1/2 mile, etc) and describe situations that the judge can imagine in his head so “he gets the picture”.
Tell him a story! Remember, he can’t see you!
Start by creating a synopsis of your issues then start describing in detail your difficulties.
One way to start is by checking my post about How to Best Argue your Case. You can also click on the image below.
This post has suggestions on how to prepare for your hearing questions and arguments (no fighting!).
And if you sign up for the email subscription, you will also receive a list of questions that judges usually ask at the hearing. Yes, you can unsubscribe after you are done and I promise not to bombard you with emails anyway.
You can use that list to prepare your answers. Then you will be able to pre-write some of them with the details I talk about above and use your notes at the hearing.
Improve that sound!
Test your phone with a friend on “speaker” to make sure your phone has a decent sound. You want to know exactly what sound to expect at your hearing.
The judge will be on speaker and your attorney (if you have one) will too. This cuts the sound quality by a lot and can create a lot of misunderstandings.
The other thing that can happen is people talking over each other, or interrupting before someone was able to finish talking.
There is also a delay in the sound.
Be aware of that before you start answering a question.
One way to improve the sound is to connect your phone to a Bluetooth speaker if you have one. Those can be pretty cheap at major retailers.
Another cheap way to do it without the extra cost is to put your phone inside a cup or bowl. Usually upside down.
That way the sound amplifies at the “ear” part of the phone and the microphone is still accessible when the phone is upside down.
Depending on the material, the sound can be really good. I noticed that wooden bowls are the best.
Try it with the different ones you have at home.
Always test it with a friend on the other side of the “speaker” to see how you can hear the other person. Be sure the other person can hear you.
If you have earbuds that can work too. These are great for a hands-off experience.
Finally, you can always hold your phone and not have it on speaker but your arm will be numb in two seconds. I promise you!
If you can’t hear the judge
If you can’t hear, there is no shame in asking the judge to repeat the question. This works the same way if you don’t understand the question too.
The judge can always rephrase it.
The Vocational Expert Part of the Hearing (Let’s call them “VE”)
To understand this part of the hearing, check my post about the Vocational Expert. You can also click on the image below.
This is important for all claimants but most importantly for those who are not represented at the hearing.
This is a complicated part of the hearing where you will not be speaking until and if given an opportunity.
But it is also a portion of the hearing that there will be an exchange of information between the judge and the VE.
Most claimants don’t understand what goes on during that part of the hearing.
But imagine now, the added stress of not hearing it that well too.
That’s why sound prep is important. And read that post about the VE!
It will make a lot more sense and you won’t be as lost during that time.
Soon after the VE part, the judge will either give you or the attorney a chance to add more questions to the VE. Then he will conclude the hearing.
Most judges will NOT give you their decision on the day of the hearing.
Only on rare occasions, they will, but not often.
In average cases, the judge will tell you that he/she will review the file and the notes to make a decision. He will also tell you that a written decision will come sometime later.
That amount of time can vary from 30 days to a few months depending on how busy the judge’s office is.
All you can do is wait.
If You Are Unrepresented at the Hearing
Be sure to read the posts suggested in this article. Simply click on the links or images and you will be directed to those posts.
Also, check the blog for other important posts about medical records and other important information about winning your disability claim.
Don’t forget to update your medical file from the time you submitted your hearing request form (appeal) until 5 days before your hearing date. Check my post below about this important deadline:
If you have any submissions that are last minute, the judge will likely request an explanation. Mostly, the explanation is that you only received the latest records recently. But be sure that the bulk of your records are submitted prior to the hearing.
For all other possible generic questions about the process, remember that I have a Facebook Group where you can ask questions. and learn about the latest news.
I hope this post helps you to get ready for your hearing.
Until next time,