How will the Coronavirus (COVID-19) affect my Social Security disability claim? The Coronavirus (COVID-19) has impacted many aspects of our lives and the Social Security disability claims process is no exception. With the closing of the Social Security Administration (SSA)’s field and hearing offices, and with staff working from home, there have been changes in the way the SSA is conducting business. In this blog, I will describe some of these changes and their impact on filing a claim for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the processing of an SSDI or SSI claim, and participation in a Social Security Disability hearing.
You are not currently able to walk into your local field office to file a new claim. For a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claim, you will need to file an application online at www.ssa.gov. For a Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claim, you will need to contact the Social Security Administration’s toll-free number at 1-800-772-1213 and set up a date and a time to complete the application over the phone.
- There is a current delay in the processing of claims. There may be many reasons for this delay, but the biggest delay my office has seen is that the SSA has been conducting few, if any, Consultative Examinations (CE). When processing a disability claim, the SSA will usually send a claimant to a physical or mental examination by an independent physician to assess the claimant’s limitations. Without this assessment, the SSA may be unable to assess an individual’s ability to meet certain physical and/or mental demands that a job may require. As of the date of this blog, I have seen few of these examinations scheduled. However, the SSA may begin to schedule these examinations on a case by case basis. Until these examinations are able to be performed, it is my fear that most claims will remain at a standstill. What does that mean to you? It most likely means a longer wait time to resolve your claim.
- Social Security disability hearings are currently being held by telephone. While you do have the right to object to a telephone hearing, there is currently no indication as to when you will have an opportunity to appear in person. Currently, all hearings are being held with participants appearing by telephone, including the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) and Vocational Expert (VE). To this point in time, my overall experience with these hearings has not been bad. However, there may be difficulty with the telephone connection, poor audio, and individuals talking over one and another. Being patient through telephone hearings can be the key to having a good hearing experience.
In summary, the challenges that COVID-19 has presented to your Social Security disability claim are not desirable. If you are waiting for your claim to be processed in the initial stages, you may be waiting for an extended period. If you have a hearing scheduled, you will ultimately have to decide whether to accept a telephone hearing with the SSA. Your hearing is an important day in your life, and I urge you to discuss what a telephone hearing is like with the SSA or your qualified representative.