How to Improve Your Chances at Appeals Council

We have heard from many readers who were denied at hearings and went on to later get approved. If you’ve decided to continue appealing your case, here are some tips for improving your chances:

Working With a Lawyer

At this stage in the process, it is best to have a lawyer, if at all possible. A lawyer can write a brief to the appeals council explaining any mistakes the judge made.

If your lawyer does not wish to continue, you can inquire about finding a new lawyer. Many lawyers will not take on appeals council cases, so you may need to be persistent. Places to look: Where to Find a Disability Lawyer

What the Appeals Council Cares About

The Appeals Council cares the most about one thing: Did the judge make any policy or procedural mistakes in your case?

Here is an excellent article on common mistakes a judge can make. (Note: It’s hard to see, but this article is two pages, make sure to look for the link to the second page). If you or your lawyer can prove that your judge made one of more of these mistakes, you may have a good case for appeals council.

Getting Your Records

It’s a good idea to request a copy of your case file, including all medical records and documents related to your hearing. You can also request an audio transcript of the hearing, if you wish.

You may be able to get this through your lawyer. You can also request your case file on CD from your local Social Security office.

If you would like to get a transcript of your hearing, you can find the address for requesting a transcript at the bottom of this page: Policy on hearing disclosures

Checking Your Records

Check to see that all your records were in your file when the decision was made. Also check to see if each record was complete and no pages were missing.

If you discover that anything important was missing during the decision this can be a help to your case.

Making a List

It may be helpful if you can look through the judges decision letter and any other documentation you have and write down a list of any specific mistakes you see the judge made.

You can also note anything the judge wrote that was factually incorrect, or any important medical evidence that was ignored or left out of the decision.

You can share your list with your lawyer while they are writing their letter to the Appeals Council.

If you are interested in learning more about Social Security policy, here is a truly excellent article from attorney Mike Murberg listing specific language that can go into a letter to Appeals Council: Appeals After Your ALJ Hearing

If there are issues with the report by the Social Security doctor who examined you, this is an interesting slide show on Discrediting the CE Report

Interesting guidebook written by a judge for other judges on how the decision gets made:

Did the Judge Use the Right Rules?

There was a rule change on March 27, 2017. If you first applied before this date, the judge is supposed to use the old rules on your case. We have gotten reports from readers that some judges and lawyers are applying the new rules when they should be applying the old rules. Social Security policy:

Submitting New Documents

The Appeals Council will generally be considering your previous records (anything already submitted before your hearing).

There is an exception, you are also able to submit documents that pertain to the time period from before the denial.

If you discover that any important previous medical records were missing at your original hearing, you can ask your lawyer to help you collect and submit those now.

If you ask your doctor to write a letter or complete a new form for you, make sure to request that they specifically note what time period this pertains to. For example: A doctor who treated you for the past three years can write a letter for you now about your symptoms at that time. To make sure the appeals council considers this, you may wish to add a cover sheet pointing out the time period the doctor is referring to.

Good news for the future: If the appeals council decides to remand your case (send it back for a new hearing) then this rule no longer applies. Before your new hearing, you can submit all new medical records, RFC forms, letters, etc, from any time period.

Learn More

Going to Appeals Council is not your only option. Another option is to start a new application. Learn more about How to Handle a Denial from a Judge

Please comment below with stories, ideas, questions or suggestions. Please let us know if any links on this page stop working. If you found this page helpful, please share it with others by pressing one of these magic little buttons: 

3 thoughts on “How to Improve Your Chances at Appeals Council”

  1. In my girls case, we had a lot going for us in her appeal…

    We had a lawyer, one of the best in the state of MA at what she does.

    Her therapist came in to testify on her behalf as to her mental disabilities.

    Her clinicians submitted additional testimony over and above the comprehensive medical records. As her attorney told her early in the process. Her “job” is building the paper trail, going to as many doctors as she could, trying every new medicine, procedure, test, etc. Going to therapy religiously, going to adult day care, etc. Its not that she didn’t need any of these things to be done, but DOCUMENT everything.

    Her caretaker (me) also testified as to the sheer amount of everything I do for her, ADLs, other activities of living , all the shopping cooking cleaning, and raising her son.

    The Administrative Law Judge from SSA actually seemed to have read her file, asked complete questions, dug deeper into the therapist and me for further info, and closely questioned the vocational expert from the state.


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