If you have been denied disability benefits and must proceed before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) for an appeal hearing, you know a lot rides on the judge’s decision. For most applicants, the prospect of attending a hearing is intimidating, but with proper preparation, you can put your nerves to rest.
Know Your Claim
When you receive the notice of your appeal hearing, spend some time reviewing your case file. You should have copies of your application and all the communications you have received from the Social Security Administration (SSA). Although you know how your disability affects your everyday life better than anyone else does, it is still best to re-familiarize yourself with the documents the ALJ will review when assessing your appeal.
Use Your Cheat Sheets
You do not have to remember all the details of your claim at the appeal hearing, so be sure to gather documents that will help you answer the ALJ’s questions about your case. These include items like your Medical and Job Worksheet (Form SSA-3381), which you filled out before you ever began your disability application.
Make notes for yourself on the common questions asked at a disability hearing and review your responses before your hearing. Be sure to take your notes along to reference during your hearing too.
Gather Recent Medical Records
One of the most important things you can do to sway a judge’s decision at an appeal hearing is to present new evidence. As soon as you receive notice that your appeal hearing has been scheduled and a judge has been assigned to your case, contact your doctors and other healthcare providers to gather recent medical records. Submit copies of these documents to the judge at the address provided on the appeal hearing notice and be sure to retain copies of these documents for yourself.
Obtain Expert Opinions and Other Statements
One of the cornerstone pieces of medical evidence in your case file is a statement from a medical expert. Written statements from others about how your disability affects your everyday life can also help. Ask friends, family members, social workers, former employers, or others that are knowledgeable about your disability to write a formal statement to include in your appeal hearing evidence. Submit these statements to the judge before the hearing date.
Your primary physician is your medical expert, particularly if you have a long-standing relationship with the doctor. He or she may have written a formal, detailed statement for your claim already and may also have completed a “Residual Functional Capacity” (RFC) report form. If not, make sure this occurs before your appeal hearing. Even if the doctor wrote a statement in the past, ask that he or she write another that includes details of any new symptoms or other new information related to your medical condition, and submit a copy of this statement to the judge prior to your hearing.
Seek Help with Your Case
You do not have to prepare for or attend your appeal hearing alone. You can get help with your claim from friends, family, or a Social Security advocate or attorney. You can even have an attorney or advocate present at your hearing to help you through the process. If you have not already hired a lawyer to help with your case, you may wish to consider doing so. Disability attorneys do not get paid if you lose your case, and if you win, they are only paid from a percentage of your back pay (typically 25%, but no more than $6,000).