CORONAVIRUS COVID-19 UPDATES
- Virginia Workers’ Compensation (VWC) Commission
- Social Security Administration (SSA)
- Office Closings
- Disability/SSI Hearings
- Online Services
- When to Use the Automated Telephone Service
- When to Call Your Local Field Office
- When to Call the National Number and Speak with an SSA Agent
- How to Apply for Benefits on a Deceased’s Record
- What If I Already Have a Scheduled Appointment with SSA?
- Will COVID-19 Affect My Current Benefit Payments?
- Beware of Scams
- What if I Can’t Appeal or Respond to SSA within the Deadline?
- What Workloads is SSA Not Doing during the COVID-19 Pandemic?
Due to Coronavirus COVID-19, the Law Office of Gerald G. Lutkenhaus is temporarily closed for in-person business, but we are working remotely until further notice. We will check our voicemail, mail, and fax machine periodically, but the best way to contact us is by EMAIL. If you are a NEW prospective client for Virginia Workers’ Compensation or Adult Social Security Disability/SSI, please use the contact form on this website and we will email you back. Thank you and stay healthy!
State of Virginia
On March 30, 2020, Governor Ralph Northam issued a statewide Stay At Home order to protect the health and safety of Virginians and mitigate the spread of the Coronavirus COVID-19. The executive order takes effect immediately and will remain in place until June 10, 2020 unless amended or rescinded by a further executive order. The order directs all Virginians to stay home except in extremely limited circumstances. The order puts temporary restrictions on restaurants, recreation, entertainment, gatherings, non-essential retail businesses, and closure of all in-person instruction at private and public K-12 schools.
All businesses shall, to the extent possible, adhere to social distancing recommendations, enhanced sanitizing practices on common surfaces, and other appropriate workplace guidance from state and federal authorities while in operation. Although business operations offering professional rather than retail services may remain open, they should utilize teleworking as much as possible. Where telework is not feasible, such business must adhere to social distancing recommendations, enhanced sanitizing practices on common surfaces, and apply the relevant workplace guidance from state and federal authorities.
Individuals may leave their residence for allowable travel including:
- seeking medical attention;
- care for family or household members;
- obtain goods and services like groceries, prescriptions; and
- engage in outdoor activity with strict social distancing requirements.
Virginia Workers’ Compensation (VWC) Commission
VWC Commission Evidentiary Hearings
Per the April 6, 2020 Order, all hearings scheduled from May 1, 2020 to June 10, 2020 will remain scheduled as video conference hearings. Parties and witnesses attending the Video Hearing must participate remotely using a PC, laptop, tablet, or smartphone equipped with a video camera and microphone. Parties and witnesses attending the Video Hearing may NOT record the Hearing by any means. Parties and witnesses attending a Video Hearing are attending a formal judicial proceeding and must dress appropriately just as if personally appearing in court. All attendees must participate from a quiet location free of distractions.
Per the May 21, 2020 Order, all hearings scheduled from June 11, 2020 and continuing will be conducted in-person. The Deputy Commissioner retain the discretion to allow any attendee to participate by video or phone when requested and where appropriate.
Individuals will be prevented from entering a Commission office or hearing location if:
- they have a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit OR
- they have within the previous 14 days:
- traveled internationally; OR
- been directed to quarantine, isolate, or self-monitor; OR
- been diagnoses with, or been in contact with anyone who has been diagnosed with, COVID-19; OR
- experienced a fever, cough, or shortness of breath; OR
- resided with or been in close contact with any person in the above mentioned categories.
The Commission and security personnel will conduct a non-invasive temperature screening prior to entry of Commission facilities and will query visitors regarding the above. Individuals with an excessive temperature or any affirmative response must call the Customer Contact Center (CCC) 1-877-664-2566. The CCC will direct the call to the appropriate judicial office for further instruction regarding alternate arrangements for access to the Commission offices or participation in hearings.
Individuals will be required to wear a mask and gloves before entering, and at all times while inside, Commission facilities. Deputy Commissioners may permit witnesses to temporarily lower their face masks when testifying if necessary and appropriate.
Occupancy in any one courtroom or waiting area will be limited to ten persons. In order to ensure recommended social and physical distancing, it may be necessary to further limit the number of people present in the courtroom or Commission facility at any given time as this number will necessarily be limited by the size of the courtroom to ensure that those present can remain six feet apart.
Hearings conducted in facilities other than the Commission’s offices shall be further subject to the requirements and restrictions of those facilities. Some facilities may not be available, necessitating a change in venue or hearing date.
Deputy Commissioners are granted broad authority to adopt additional procedures to ensure the safety of persons appearing before the Commission as well as the safety of Commission staff. This discretion will include the granting of continuances if necessary to ensure that safety in light of the ongoing emergency.
VWC Commission Mediations Will Be by Phone
In response to recommendations concerning COVID-19, all In-person Mediations have been cancelled through April 30, 2020. Until In-person Mediations can resume, In-person Mediations will be automatically rescheduled as Telephone Mediations (unless the parties notify the ADR Scheduler, preferably via WebFile, that they agree to wait for an In-Person Mediation date or they agree to Video Conferencing). The Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Department is still available for calls at 804-205-3139.
VWC Commission Headquarters in Richmond Closed to the Public
Per the April 20, 2020 Order, the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission (VWC) will remain closed to the public but will reopen its headquarters at 333 E. Franklin St, Richmond, VA on April 21st, with minimal occupancy of employees performing critical functions. Previously on April 7, 2020, the VWC Commission Headquarters in Richmond was closed for cleaning and disinfection due to an employee exhibiting symptoms for COVID-19.
The Commission’s Clerk’s Office and mail operations will also reopen on April 21st. Parties are strongly encouraged to file documents by WebFile or fax 804-823-6957. In accordance with Va. Code Sec. 1-210(B), the filing deadline for any item required to be filed with the Commission during the period in which the Clerk’s Office was closed is extended to April 21st. During office hours, visitors will use a drop box located in front of the Commission’s headquarters for subpoenas and hand delivered filings.
VWC Commission Regional Offices are Closed to the Public
Starting March 30, 2020, all VWC Commission Regional offices will be closed until further notice. Employees will begin teleworking, continuing as many business operations as possible. Regional offices are located in Bristol, Fairfax, Harrisonburg, Manassas, Roanoke, and Virginia Beach.
VWC Commission Services Still in Operation
Most employees are teleworking, continuing as many business operations as possible.
- VWC Customer Contact Center is still available for calls Monday through Friday 8:30am to 4:45pm at 1-877-664-2566.
- VWC Commission website remains operational.
- WebFile remains operational and electronic filings are highly recommended.
- Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Department is still available for calls at 804-205-3139.
- Dropbox for subpoenas and hand delivered filings is located in front of the VWC Commission HQ in Richmond during office hours.
For more updates, check https://workcomp.virginia.gov/ under “News and Notices”.
Social Security Administration (SSA)
SSA Office Closings
Due to COVID-19, beginning March 17, 2020, all SSA field offices and offices of hearings operations (OHOs) nationwide will be closed to the public for in-person service until further notice (but there are exceptions for “critical” cases: people in dire need of expedited disability determinations, reinstatement of benefits in dire circumstances, emergency payments, and interim financial assistance for SSI applicants). Do NOT go to the SSA office or hearing office. Instead, use SSA online services or call the SSA National number 1-800-772-1213 and use the SSA automated telephone services. If you must speak with an SSA agent, then call your local SSA field office or your local SSA Hearing Office if you are at the hearing level. For more SSA Coronavirus updates, visit https://www.ssa.gov/coronavirus/.
Social Security Disability/SSI Hearings
ALL Social Security Disability/SSI Hearings in Region 3 through the end of AUGUST 2020 will be by TELEPHONE. If you already have a hearing scheduled for March through August 2020, the hearing office will call you to offer you 2 options:
- proceed with your scheduled hearing by telephone,
- reschedule your hearing for an in-person proceeding. (In-person hearings will be rescheduled for September or later.)
Judges and staff members who work for the SSA hearing offices will continue some work remotely, including:
- holding telephone hearings for claimants who agree;
- writing and issuing disability decisions;
- developing cases for hearings; and
- scheduling hearings.
You can call your local Office of Hearings Operations (OHO) for the following:
- confirming your availability for a telephone hearing;
- confirming that you would like a postponement if you would prefer to wait until an in-person or video hearing is available;
- updating your records to ensure we have the appropriate telephone number and address; and
- providing status for your pending hearing.
Richmond OHO services the following SSA field offices: Chesterfield, Farmville, Fredericksburg, Lynchburg, Petersburg, Richmond, and Sandston. Richmond OHO contact information is:
Mail: 801 E. Main St, 4th Floor, Richmond, VA 23219
Phone: 877-405-3665 (phone)
Fax: 804-771-2405 (fax)
eFax: 877-871-1880 (must use SSA coversheet with barcode)
Charlottesville OHO services the following SSA field offices: Charlottesville, Culpeper, Danville, Harrisonburg, Martinsville, South Boston, and Staunton. Charlottesville OHO contact information is:
Mail: 1470 Pantops Mountain Place, 2nd Floor, Charlottesville, VA 22911
eFax: 877-390-2321 (must use SSA coversheet with barcode)
Norfolk OHO services the following SSA field offices: Accomac, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk, and Virginia Beach. Norfolk OHO contact information is:
Mail: 5850 Lake Herbert Dr, 3rd Floor, Norfolk, VA 23502
eFax: 877-871-1879 (must use SSA coversheet with barcode)
For more OHO locations, use the SSA Hearing Office Locator.
SSA Online Services
All SSA field offices and hearing offices nationwide are closed to the public for in-person services until further notice. Therefore, use of SSA online services is strongly encouraged. SSA offers many services online, including:
- File a claim for retirement, disability, or Medicare benefits;
- Apply for Extra Help with Medicare Prescription Drugs;
- Check your application status;
- File an appeal if you were recently denied disability benefits;
- Request a replacement Social Security card (in most areas);
- Print proof of your benefits (AKA “benefit verification”);
- Explore all of the benefits you may be eligible for at Benefits.gov;
- Request a replacement Medicare card, although your healthcare provider can verify coverage if you know your Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI) number;
- Print a SSA-1099;
- Change your address, if you receive benefits;
- Set up or change your direct deposit; and
- Much more.
If you can’t use SSA online services, then you can call the SSA National Number 1-800-772-1213 and use the Automated Telephone Services. Almost all of the SSA online services are also available via Automated Telephone Services. If you must speak with an SSA agent, call your local SSA field office. Waiting to speak with an SSA agent on the SSA National Number can take up to 90 minutes or more due to high call volume.
When to Call the SSA National Number 1-800-772-1213 and use the Automated Services
SSA offers several automated telephone services that you can do 24 hours a day without speaking with an agent. Almost all of the SSA Automated Telephone Services are also available online (click the links below).
- Services for Medicare beneficiaries only:
- Services for people who have applied for benefits:
- Services everyone can use:
- find the mailing address and phone number of your local SSA field office;
- request form SS-5 to apply for an original SS card or replacement card if yours was lost or stolen, request a name change on your SS card, or update/correct other information on your SSN record (you can also request a replacement SS card online via your “My Social Security” account).
- Informational messages you can listen to on the following subjects:
- Payment delivery dates
- Direct deposit
- Best times to call the SSA National Number (during the week after Tuesday)
- SS internet address and services
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI or “welfare disability”)
- Cost-of-living adjustment (COLA)
- Non-receipt of your SS benefit
- Representative payee
- Become a representative payee (online FAQ#4)
If you can’t handle your business through SSA’s automated services, you can speak with an SSA agent. However, the SSA National Number can have call wait times of up to 90 minutes or more, so first try calling your local SSA field office.
When to Call Your Local SSA Field Office
All SSA field offices nationwide are closed for in-person business until further notice. If you don’t need to speak with an SSA agent, then FIRST try SSA online services or call SSA National Number 1-800-1213 and use the Automated Telephone Services. For your local SSA field office mailing address and phone number, use the SSA Field Office Locator.
SSA field office employees will prioritize the following “critical” issues:
- Taking disability and survivor applications for the most severe disabilities, including:
- If you have a terminal illness;
- If you are a Wounded Warrior;
- If you may qualify for an immediate Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payment based certain severe disabilities; and
- If your disability qualifies for our Compassionate Allowance or Quick Disability Determination processes.
- Resolving payment-related issues:
- If you did not receive your monthly payment;
- If you are currently homeless or at risk of becoming homeless;
- If you received an overpayment letter and need to request a reduced repayment schedule or request a waiver; or
- If your benefits were suspended and can now be reinstated.
When to Call the SSA National Number 1-800-772-1213 and Speak with an SSA Agent
If you can’t handle your issue online or through SSA’s automated telephone services, then you can speak with an SSA agent Monday through Friday 8:00 am to 5:30 pm by calling 1-800-772-1213. National Number call wait times to speak with an SSA agent can be up to 90 minutes or more. But generally, you will have a shorter wait time if you call during the week after Tuesday. The SSA National number agents can assist with limited transactions and are focused on helping those people most in need. If your request can be processed online, SSA agents will redirect you to use SSA’s online services.
SSA National number agents can assist with the following limited transactions:
If you are NOT receiving benefits:
- Scheduling a telephone appointment to apply for disability and survivor benefits
- If you have a terminal illness;
- If you are a Wounded Warrior;
- If you may qualify for an immediate Supplemental Security Income payment based certain severe disabilities;
- If your disability qualifies for our Compassionate Allowance or Quick Disability Determination processes; and
- Other applications for benefits including Retirement, Survivors, Social Security Disability, Medicare, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claims.
If you ARE receiving benefits:
- Resolving payment-related issues including:
- Change of Address;
- Direct Deposit Change;
- Death Reports;
- Requests to reinstate benefits; and
- Reports of non-receipt of payment. (Note: If you are reporting a non-receipt of payment, SSA will investigate and send payments by mail, or SSA will schedule an appointment for you to visit the office for pickup.)
- Other critical actions such as taking Medicare and Medicaid applications necessary for health-care coverage.
- Handling Representative Payee and other changes that ensure you continue to receive benefits.
To the extent possible, SSA will complete all other applications for Retirement, Survivor, Disability, or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. SSA encourages individuals applying for routine retirement and disability benefits to apply online. Apply online for Retirement benefits or apply online for Disability benefits.
How to Apply for Benefits on a Deceased Worker’s Record?
Widows, Widowers, and Surviving Divorced Spouses CANNOT apply online for Survivors benefits. You CANNOT apply online for Adult Child Disability either. Instead, apply by calling your local SSA field office or the SSA National number 1-800-772-1213. If you are applying for disability benefits on a deceased worker’s record (e.g. Adult Child Disability or Widow(er)’s Disability), you can speed up the application process by completing an Adult Disability Report and having it available at the time of your appointment.
What If I Already Have a Scheduled Appointment with SSA?
Will COVID-19 Affect My Current Benefit Payments?
No, COVID-19 will NOT affect the payment of your current benefits by direct deposit or mail. If you wish to switch your benefits from mail to direct deposit, visit https://www.ssa.gov/deposit/.
Beware of Scams
Be cautious of scams threatening suspension of your benefits due to COVID-19-related office closures. If you receive communication claiming to be from the US Treasury, IRS, SSA, or other government agency offering COVID-19 related grants or economic impact payments in exchange for personal financial information, advance fee, or charge of any kind (including the purchase of gift cards), please do not respond as this is a scam. To report Social Security scams, visit https://oig.ssa.gov. Some scammers are offering COVID-19 tests to Medicare beneficiaries in exchange for personal details (including Medicare information), but the services are unapproved and illegitimate.
What If I Can’t Appeal or Respond to SSA within the Deadline?
Do NOT go to the SSA office as they are closed nationwide to the public for in-person services until further notice. Instead appeal online (also see next paragraph) or by mail with the appropriate forms by following the directions on the denial letter. To find your local SSA field office address and phone number, click here.
Usually, you have 65 days to appeal any denial (60 days plus 5 days for mailing) by following the directions on the SSA denial letter. The denial is presumed received within 5 days of the date of the letter unless you can prove otherwise. It is best to appeal online via https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/disability/appeal.html. You can also appeal by mail to your local SSA field office. However, if you cannot appeal on time due to COVID-19, then appeal as soon as you can and file a “Good Cause” letter with your appeal explaining your situation. During the COVID-19 pandemic, SSA is providing maximum flexibility in applying their Good Cause policy.
If SSA sends you a notice asking you to do something (e.g. return a form) within a certain deadline but you can’t respond in time due to COVID-19, just respond as soon as you can. During the COVID-19 pandemic, SSA is providing maximum flexibility.
What Workloads is SSA Not Doing during the COVID-19 Pandemic?
SSA has suspended the following workloads until further notice:
- SSA will not start or complete any current medical Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs). If you have a medical CDR pending, please do not request medical information from your doctors at this time. SSA will follow up with you for any medical evidence once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.
- SSA will not conduct any non-disability hearings.
- Where possible, SSA is suspending their processing and collection of overpayments.
- SSA is not conducting organization or individual representative payee accountings.
- SSA will not be able to process a third party request for information, except from appointed representatives and representative payees.
- SSA will not process any Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.