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Social Security Disability appeal preparation tips

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  It’s not uncommon for people applying for Social Security Disability benefits in Illinois to have their claims denied. Fortunately, these individuals can appeal the denied claim. After filing a request for reconsideration, individuals who face another denial can request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. It’s critical for these applicants to understand what to expect and be fully prepared during this hearing.

Updating documentation

The case files the ALJ reviews do not always contain current medical records. Often, the SSA stops collecting medical records after claim denial. Given the length of the appeals process, the documents in the case file may be outdated by months by the time the hearing is held. Individuals preparing for appeals should collect recent medical records and submit copies to the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review.

People appealing denied disability claims have a right to review their case files. A review can establish when the SSA’s documentation leaves off. An applicant can also check for errors and missing medical records when reviewing the file. If there are any, the applicant can obtain documentation and correct the error during the hearing.

In addition to updated medical records, applicants should bring supporting statements from doctors to their disability appeals. Treating physicians can write letters or complete Residual Functional Capacity forms to establish the specific limitations the disability causes. This documentation can provide more effective evidence than broad statements or medical records.

Ensuring accuracy

Representing the disability concisely and accurately during the hearing is important. Applicants should be prepared to describe the following things in detail:


  •  Specific effects and symptoms of the disability

  •  Treatments used to manage the condition and undesirable side effects of those treatments

  •  Ways the disability impacts ability to do specific tasks, such as sitting, walking and lifting

  •  How those limitations prevent employment and affect activities of daily living


Many people benefit from keeping a journal of symptoms, treatments and daily activities during the month prior to the hearing. This provides an accurate representation of the daily effects of the disability. It also ensures that the individual does not overlook any important information during the hearing.

Individuals should also be prepared with employment information extending back 15 years. This information should include specific job duties and mental or physical requirements of each job. Individuals should also be prepared to explain why the disability prevents them from performing those duties or meeting those requirements.

Finally, individuals with legal representation should meet with the representative before the hearing. A Social Security Disability attorney can provide assistance with many aspects of preparation, such as submitting current medical documentation. An attorney can also help an individual fully understand what to expect during the hearing.

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