social security disability lawyerIf you receive a denial of benefits letter from the SSA, there is still hope. You can always appeal the decision. An appeal must be submitted in writing within 60 days from the date you receive the denial, and there is a presumption that you received the letter within five days after it was sent.  After a denial, there are three levels of appeal and your social security disability lawyer can help you navigate through them.

Preparing for a Disability Hearing

The unfortunate reality is that, most people who apply for Social Security Disability benefits are denied the first time around.  This means that most people end up appealing the decision.  However, it will take two separate levels of appeal before they get to have a disability hearing before a judge, which can take nearly a year to get scheduled.  If it takes that much to get a hearing, it is certainly important to be prepared.  The most important thing you will need, in preparing for a disability hearing, is medical evidence of your disability.

Obtain current, updated medical records

The most important part of preparing for your disability hearing is to gather any additional medical records, so that when you arrive at your hearing, you can present the most recent medical records that exist.  Be sure that you do not have any gaps in your medical documentation.
In most situations, the Social Security Administration will not obtain additional medical records for you, before your hearing. Although the initial claims examiner will obtain updated records when your claim is first evaluated, when your case file is transferred to the hearing office, all “case development” will usually cease. That means, no further records will be obtained on your behalf and no further review will be conducted.

Get a statement from your physician

An essential part of your medical evidence is your physician’s medical opinion.  In order to adequately prepare for your disability hearing, it is crucial that you obtain supportive statements from the physicians who treated you in the past. To be effective, your physician should write a detailed “medical source statement” explaining in detail the work activities you are unable to do.  That is referred to as your functional limitations.  For example, if you are unable to sit or stand longer than 20 minutes, or unable to lift more than 20 lbs., those limitations need to be explained. 

Review your case file before the hearing

You are allowed to request your entire case file from Social Security, before your hearing. Here again, you can seek the assistance of your social security disability lawyer.  It is important to take advantage of this opportunity and review your file to determine whether there are any missing medical records or mistakes in the claims examiner’s reasons for denying you benefits. Reviewing your file also helps you prepare arguments ahead of time, as to why Social Security has incorrectly denied you benefits.

Seek the advice and representation of a social security disability lawyer 

When you are represented at your hearing by a disability attorney, your lawyer will take care of requesting and submitting your most recent medical records and medical source statements.  All you will need to do is simply arrive at the hearing.  Your lawyer should also prepare you for questioning by the Administrative Law Judge.

Review by the Appeals Council

If you are again denied benefits, following the appeals hearing, you can request further review by the Social Security Appeals Council. The council will consider the request for review, but is not required to review your claim if it agrees with the ALJ’s decision. Otherwise, the Council can either decide your case itself or require the ALJ to look at the case again. The Council’s decision will be sent to you in writing.

The final step is to appeal to the federal court

If the Appeals Council upholds the ALJ’s denial of your claim, or if they refuse to review your case at all, you can file a lawsuit in federal court. You only have 60 days from the Council’s decision to file the lawsuit. The SSA cannot assist you in filing the lawsuit, so it is wise to obtain legal representation at this point, if you haven’t already.
This part of the appeals process can take at least a year to complete. At this point, there are three possible outcomes: the case can be remanded to the ALJ for reconsideration; the court can affirm the ALJ’s decision, to deny your claim; or the court can reverse the ALJ’s decision and award you social security benefits.
If you have questions regarding appeals, hearings, or any other social security disability claims issues in Arkansas or Missouri, please contact the Cottrell Law Office for a consultation, either online or by calling us as (888) 433-4861.

Author Photo

Wesley Cottrell

Wes Cottrell earned his B.A. from Pittsburg State University in 1981 and his J.D. from the Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kansas in 1985. He was admitted to practice law in Kansas in 1986, in Missouri in 1987, in Arkansas in 1989, and Oklahoma in 1993. He is licensed to practice law in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, eastern Arkansas, western Arkansas, and western Missouri. He was Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in Crawford County, Kansas from 1987-1989.

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