A few months ago, my brother Jeremy filled you in on all of the changes that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused in the world of personal injury cases. Since that article came out, we’ve had a few clients reach out to tell us how helpful it was, so this month I thought I’d do the same thing for my area of expertise — Social Security disability claims! The pandemic has touched every area of law, and this one is no exception.
The biggest and most obvious change we’ve been dealing with is that our hearings are no longer in person. To maintain social distancing and keep clients, lawyers, and judges safe, we’re required to do all hearings over the phone. This way of operating will be in place at least through the end of 2020, so if you have a Social Security disability claim in the works or are thinking about filing one, it’s important to be aware of the pros and cons.
Changes COVID-19 Has Brought to Social Security Disability Claims
On the positive side, a virtual hearing can happen anywhere with phone service, so our clients have been able to attend their hearings from wherever they feel most comfortable. For many people, attending a hearing from home makes the process a lot less stressful. Judges, courthouses, and courtrooms can be intimidating, and the phone process takes that fear away.
That said, there are a few disadvantages to this model too. The first and biggest one is that the judge can’t see you in a phone hearing, and that can take away some of the impact of your disability. In a regular hearing, for example, the judge can see with their own eyes if a client is walking with a limp, has to regularly shift their position because of back pain, or has a disfiguring injury. Without seeing that, it’s possible they won’t fully grasp the extent of what you’re going through or take it quite as seriously.
To make sure that this doesn’t happen, our team is working even harder to prepare our clients for their hearings. We want to ensure that you can describe your disability effectively and completely. If you’re still worried your claim won’t be taken seriously over the phone, we can postpone your hearing until in-person hearings start up again.
The second disadvantage to virtual hearings is that they’re handled by a wider range of judges. In the past, our hearings for New Mexico clients were always handled by New Mexico judges. I saw these same judges all the time, so I was familiar with each of them and knew their preferences and styles. Now, though, I’ve had hearings with judges from Louisiana, Texas, and beyond! These judges are wild cards, but I’ve put all of my resources and years of experience into making sure my clients’ hearings continue to go smoothly.
When I don’t know a judge personally, I reach out to my vast network of Social Security disability lawyers around the country and ask for tips from anyone who has worked with the judge before. Generally, my colleagues are happy to pass this information on to me, and I always take it into account when preparing my clients.
Apart from the phone hearings, there haven’t been too many changes in the world of Social Security disability. Many administrators are working from home at the moment, so paperwork is taking a bit longer, but everything is still being done. If you’re waiting on a claim, please be patient with the process — I’m sure everyone is doing the best they can to move things through.
At the end of the day, while the pandemic has created some challenges for Social Security disability claims, our team is working harder than ever to ensure all of our clients are treated fairly and their claims are approved. As the pandemic continues to change things, we’ll continue to find creative ways to adapt, adjust, and come out on top.