How to Write a Prehearing Brief for Your Disability Appeal

Here are instructions on how to write a brief for your Social Security disability hearing.

A single disability claim file can contain many hundreds or even a thousand pages of evidence, including vast quantities of medical records. Submitting a written "brief" to the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) prior to your hearing allows you to highlight the most important evidence, clarify the issues, and present your theory of the case. When done well, a hearing brief reassures the judge that you have a strong claim that is well-supported by medical evidence and consistent with Social Security regulations.

Usually disability claimants hire a lawyer to write a prehearing brief, but if you have good writing skills, you can try to write your own.

What to Include in a Prehearing Brief

Address your prehearing brief to the judge who has been assigned to your case and send it to the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) handling your case. Send it at least a week before your hearing.

Your brief should contain the following elements.

Identifying Information and Procedural History

Be sure to include your name, Social Security number, date of birth, educational level, and hearing date. Also list procedural information related to your claim: namely, the date of your application, the date you claim your disability began, and your "date last insured" for SSDI benefits, if applicable.

Concise Introduction

This is the "in-a-nutshell" version of your case. Here you should briefly outline your severe medical issues, work history, and any compelling evidence in your favor.

Summary of Medical Evidence

A disability claim file can contain hundreds of pages of medical records over a period of many years. Your goal in your prehearing brief should be to highlight the most significant medical evidence for the judge, particularly the results of objective tests and opinions from your treating physicians that support your claim. It is critical that you provide citations to exhibits in your claim file.

Discussion of Sequential Evaluation

Social Security follows a five-step sequential evaluation to decide whether you qualify for disability benefits. A concise, well-supported discussion of each step may make the ALJ feel more comfortable approving your claim. Here are the main issues to address at each step.

  • Step one: State whether you've performed any work since your alleged disability onset date. If so, you may be able to argue that it doesn't make you ineligible for benefits because it was an unsuccessful work attempt or below the substantial gainful activity threshold.
  • Step two: Identify the severe impairments, both mental and physical, that are preventing you from working.
  • Step three: If your medical issues arguably meet one of Social Security's Blue Book listings, state the listing name and number and cite the medical records and opinion evidence supporting your argument.
  • Step four: Briefly describe your past jobs (within the last 15 years) and explain why you're unable to return to any of those jobs.
    Example: Mr. Smith's only prior work experience is as a firefighter, a job which required him to lift up to 100 pounds on occasion. Because his treating physician has restricted him to lifting no more than ten pounds occasionally, Mr. Smith cannot perform his past work.
  • Step five: Here you must prove that you're unable to handle any other jobs that exist in the U.S. Focus on your limitations that prevent you from performing even unskilled, sedentary jobs. For example, if you'd need frequent unscheduled breaks from work due to fatigue, or you would be absent from work twice a month, cite the medical evidence that supports those limitations.

Discussion of Unfavorable Evidence

Even strong disability cases sometimes contain "bad facts" that need to be explained, such as drug and alcohol abuse or working after your disability onset date. While you certainly shouldn't dwell on these issues in your brief, it's perhaps just as foolish to ignore them and hope they go away. Being up-front about the negative evidence in your case may also earn you credibility with the judge.

Conclusion

Briefly recount the main points of your argument and the supporting evidence.

How many pages should you devote to a prehearing brief? Two to three pages usually provides enough space to summarize the medical evidence, discuss the five-step sequential evaluation, and explain why you should be granted benefits.

For Help, Contact a Disability Attorney

Experienced disability attorneys will understand how to craft the most convincing prehearing brief for the ALJ in your case. You may want to consult our Lawyer Directory to find a disability attorney in your area to write a brief for you and represent you at your hearing.

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