If you applied for Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income benefits and your claim has been denied, you might want to review the evidence in your Social Security Disability claim file or take your file to an attorney representative for review.  Here are some tips:

Why would I want to get a copy of my Social Security Disability file?

Claimants often request a copy of their file because they have asked an attorney representative to take their case, and the attorney representative has asked to review the file.

Claimants also request their files when they represent themselves at the administrative law judge hearing.

The administrative law judge makes a decision based on the evidence in the file.  If the file is incomplete, your application for benefits might be denied even though you are disabled.

An attorney representative who is considering accepting a claimant as a client will ordinarily want to review the file to see why the claim was denied at the first levels and to see whether the evidence is strong or whether there is evidence in the file that shows the claimant is still capable of working, abusing drugs, noncompliant with care, or has recovered from illness or injury following surgery or treatment.

You are more likely to get the assistance of a Southern Illinois Social Security Disability representative if you have a copy of your file for review.

It takes at least two months to gather and submit updated medical evidence.  All evidence has to be submitted earlier than 5 days before the hearing.  Do not put off contacting a representative if your case is being scheduled for hearing.

Whose responsibility is it to gather the evidence that makes up my Social Security Disability file?

After a claimant files a Request for Hearing (the second appeal in most states), a notice from the hearing office director will advise the claimant that he or she is required to inform the hearing office about or submit all evidence known to the claimant that relates to whether or not the claimant is blind or disabled.

The hearing office will send forms to the claimant that must be completed and returned by the claimant or the representative.  These forms describe recent medical treatment (HA-4631), medications (HA-4632), and work background (HA-4633).

If the claimant is not represented, the hearing office staff will request records from the sources listed.  If the claimant is represented, the hearing office will assume that the claimant’s representative will request and submit the records.

Prior to the hearing level, the claimant is also required to disclose all doctors, hospitals, therapists and other treating sources that they have seen during the alleged period of disability.

The claimant is also obligated to disclose all other evidence that relates to the alleged disability such as workers compensation claims, long term disability claims, and other nonmedical sources relating to the alleged impairments.

The regulations are clear:

“In general, you have to prove to us that you are blind or disabled. You must inform us about or submit all evidence known to you that relates to whether or not you are blind or disabled. This duty is ongoing and requires you to disclose any additional related evidence about which you become aware. This duty applies at each level of the administrative review process, including the Appeals Council level if the evidence relates to the period on or before the date of the administrative law judge hearing decision. We will consider only impairment(s) you say you have or about which we receive evidence.”  20 C.F.R. §404.1512(a).

What’s the quickest and easiest way to get a copy of my file sent to me?

You can request your Social Security Disability file from the Social Security Administration by calling the hearing office where your case is being handled or your local Social Security office.  The contact information will be on the letters and notices you receive.

Your file will be mailed to you on a compact disc.  You will need a computer to view it.  The instructions for opening the files will be contained on the compact disc.  In most cases there will be a security code to protect the privacy.   The local field office can help you if you are not able to view your file.  Most files are between 800 and 2,000 pages.  Do not expect the field office to print your file for you.

If you are viewing the file on a public computer there is a risk of leaving copies of the documents and your private medical information on the computer.  You should be very careful about using a public computer to view your Social Security claim file.

If you request your records in person at your local office, you may also be asked to provide proof of identification.  It is a good idea to bring your Social Security card with you as well as your driver’s license or state ID.

When can I expect to receive my file?

It generally takes 1 to 2 weeks for your file to arrive at your mailing address, depending on where you live.  If it has been over 2 weeks since you requested your file and it still hasn’t arrived, you should contact the SSA for a status update.

What should I look for when I receive my Social Security Disability file?

Here are a few of the questions to ask when you review your file:

  • Does the file contain up to date records from your doctors, hospitals and therapists?
  • If the file contains a detailed earnings query and certified earnings query, are all of your jobs listed?
  • Are there any records for someone else in your file?
  • Were records “unavailable” from any of your treating sources?
  • Does the file contain all of the function reports, seizure reports, and work histories that you filled out and submitted at the initial and reconsideration levels?
  • Did the adjudicator send reports to your doctors?  If so, did they complete them?

By requesting and reviewing a copy of your Social Security Disability file, you will be better educated about your case and more likely to know what information you need to provide to have your claim approved.

Joni Beth Bailey is a Southern Illinois Social Security Disability attorney.