Changes at the Social Security Administration and Tips for Claimants During COVID-19
As with many businesses and government agencies throughout the country, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has had to make many changes to its operations due to the widespread impacts of COVID-19. These changes have been evolving over time and are subject to change quickly. There have been alterations to how Social Security conducts telephone hearings and the availability of services at local offices, among other modifications to the functions of SSA. It is still important to continue developing the record during this time and continue with medical care through available options such as telemedicine and virtual visits. It is also important to make claimants aware of phone scams that have continued and become more prominent as the country confronts the pandemic.
The primary concern on many claimants’ minds is whether they are required to have a hearing by telephone if they receive an offer to do so. The clear answer is that telephone hearings are not mandatory for now and can be an option to pursue if you cannot wait for an answer on your claim. There is no estimate of when a regular in-person hearing will be scheduled again. However, a Notice of Hearing must be sent at least seventy-five (75) days prior to the hearing date unless the claimant waives the right in writing to do so. There are plans to improve service by offering video hearings to claimants that will be available to do from a camera-enabled smartphone, tablet, or computer. All consultative examinations have been temporarily cancelled and none will be scheduled until further notice.
The Social Security Administration is asking the public to try using online services first during the COVID-19 pandemic. Local Social Security offices are currently closed to the public. You should call the local Social Security office, not the national number, first. You can access the Field Officer Locator on the Social Security Administration website by going to https://www.ssa.gov/locator/. This tool allows you to search for your local Social Security office by zip code. The national 800 number, which is 800-772-1213, can also be used; however, is important to note that the wait times may be longer than usual to connect to an agent. In order to a get a waiver for an overpayment, you should call your local Social Security office.
While waiting for a hearing to be scheduled, it is important for everyone to continue with medical care as much as possible by signing up for telemedicine and virtual visits. It is important to contact your doctor’s office and first ask them if they support your disability claim. Then ask if virtual appointments can be scheduled and if they can do an RFC (Residual Functional Capacity) assessment, which is a checkbox form your doctor can complete in support of your disability.
Lastly, it is important to be aware of Social Security phone scams. If you have applied for Social Security and have not been denied yet, or if you have requested reconsideration, the Social Security Administration could possibly contact you by phone prior to sending a letter. You should ask the person for a callback number if you are unsure that you are actually speaking to Social Security. You can then confirm either online or through the closest NPLS office whether it is a real number.