Social Security Offices Reopened
After protracted negotiations caused a considerable delay, 1,200 offices of the Social Security Administration throughout the country reopened at the end of March 2022.
In March 2020, the agency closed most field offices, citing the need to protect employees, as well as disability applicants with pre-existing conditions, from COVID-19. Once offices reopen, both vaccinated and unvaccinated persons may be on premises. Everyone must wear a mask, regardless of vaccination status. The SSA began negotiating with employees in January in this area. “This agreement is only the first step, but we now have a path forward to begin reopening SSA offices and worksites in a manner that protects both the health and safety of employees and the public we serve,” said Rich Couture, chief negotiator for the American Federation of Government Employees, one of three labor unions representing Social Security workers.
About 75 million Americans receive payments from the Social Security Administration.
While offices have been closed, most Disability Determination Services officers have conducted virtual reviews. These reviews are better than nothing, because they kept things moving forward during coronavirus shutdowns. But virtual reviews often hurt Social Security Disability applicants.
Frequently, DDS officers must review a slew of medical and legal records. The SSA provides some of, but not all of, this paperwork. Someone, most likely the applicant, had to electronically send files to the DDS officer. This process is very time-consuming, especially if the records were not in a digital format. Additionally, disability applicants in rural or semi-rural areas often have limited internet access. That limited access could hamper both document upload and their ability to attend a virtual hearing.
Technical issues are not the only problem. Quite frankly, DDS officers who have performed paper reviews for years are used to, well, reviewing papers. They are not used to looking at screens. If anything gets lost in translation during this process, the applicant nearly always pays the price.
DDS hearings are already difficult enough to win. Since they are only paper reviews, a Tampa Social Security Disability attorney cannot introduce evidence, challenge evidence, or make legal arguments. In many cases, they cannot even appear with their clients. As a result, it’s difficult to obtain maximum benefits at a live DDS hearing. It’s even more difficult to achieve these results at a virtual DDS hearing.
Tampa Social Security Disability attorneys and their clients should benefit even more from the return of live ALJ hearings.
At an Administrative Law Judge appeal hearing, the aforementioned restrictions do not apply. Instead, an ALJ hearing is like a trial in many respects. The main difference is that an ALJ is not, technically speaking, an independent judge. Instead, most ALJs are employees or contractors of the Social Security Administration. Nevertheless, most Administrative Law Judges are experienced professionals who are reasonably dispassionate. Additionally, since ALJs are lawyers, they fully appreciate the impact of an effective legal argument.
A virtual ALJ hearing is not quite like watching a trial on TV. But it is close. The same intensity level is not there.
The revival of live ALJ hearings should increase the number of favorable settlements in these cases. Social Security Administration lawyers know that the chances of a live ALJ siding with an applicant are much higher than the chances of a virtual ALJ siding with an applicant. Therefore, they are motivated to resolve these claims on victim-friendly terms.
Connect with a Passionate Hillsborough County Attorney
Injury victims are entitled to important financial benefits. For a free consultation with an experienced Tampa Social Security Disability lawyer, contact Kobal Law. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these matters.