It may feel shocking when the Social Security Administration (SSA) denies your application for SSDI benefits, but there are proactive steps you can take to form a strong case for your appeal. One of the most important steps is reviewing your disability exhibit file.

What’s a Disability Exhibit File?

A disability exhibit file, also known as a Social Security Claim File, describes the entire body of documents that comprise your case file. In other words, it includes every letter, Pile of Paper Clipped Social Security Filesmedical record, assessment, and so on that’s connected with your SSDI benefits application. The file also contains documents pertaining to each step of your application journey, from your initial application to judgments to any appeals you have filed.

The SSA maintains a digital copy of the exhibit file, but the Office of Hearings Operations (OHO) maintains the file exhibit list. The exhibit list, similar to a table of contents, assigns each item in the file a reference number so that each document can be easily identified. After the OHO creates the exhibit list, they will send a copy to you and your attorney.

What’s the Significance of a Disability Exhibit File?

The exhibit file’s purpose is to show the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in charge of your case all the evidence relevant to your impairment and help them understand where you are in the claim process. They will refer to it throughout your appeal hearing and their decision-making process. That’s why the file must be as complete and accurate as possible.

You have the right to access and add more documents to the file as needed. It’s essential that, before your appeal, you request a copy of the file from the SSA to ensure that it has all information relevant and necessary to prove your disability and inability to work. An experienced SSDI lawyer can and should help you review the file to identify any important elements that may be missing or incorrect information. You and the ALJ should have the same set of documents.

What a Disability Exhibit File Should Contain

  • Your initial application for SSDI benefits
  • Your Social Security Earnings Record
  • Your medical records, reports, and assessments
  • Social Security forms completed by you or your lawyer
  • Communications from Social Security
  • Your documented Work History
  • Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) forms or statements from your doctor and other health care providers
  • The official disability determination from Disability Determination Services
  • detailing your medical condition and providing the reason for your application’s denial
  • Testimonials about your disability from you or others

What the File Should Contain If Appealing an ALJ Decision

  • Transcripts of the appeal hearing
  • The ALJ’s Notice of Decision

What the File May Contain If Appealing to a Federal District Court

  • The Summons and Complaint filed at the federal district court
  • The Action of Appeals Council on Request for Review
  • Notes and comments from the Appeal Council’s review of your file

How to Request a Disability Exhibit File

You have the right to one free copy of your disability exhibit file. Call your local Social Security office to request one. The free copy is only currently available on a CD-ROM, so you will need to have access to a CD-ROM reader to access the files. If you can’t use a CD-ROM, you may need to pay the SSA to print the file. Normally, you must pick up the file in person, and it will be available within one to four weeks after your request. You’ll need time to review the file and correct any errors or omissions, so you should request it as soon as possible.

How an Experienced Massachusetts Disabilities Lawyer Can Help

It’s strongly in your interest to have a qualified Massachusetts disabilities lawyer review your disability exhibit file well before your appeal hearing. An experienced lawyer will be able to spot gaps in vital information and identify inaccurate information or other discrepancies in your file. For example, a skilled lawyer will notice if certain X-rays or scans are missing or if the medical statements from your health care provider fail to underscore aspects of your impairment that would make a difference to the ALJ. Your chances of receiving benefits increase when working with a skilled lawyer during the appeal process. If you would like to speak with an experienced Social Security disability lawyer, please contact us online or call directly at 508-283-5500 to schedule your free consultation as soon as possible.

Are You Looking for a Social Security Disability Attorney in Boston, MA?

If you are looking to apply for social security disability, you need to speak with an experienced social security disability lawyer as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Natick Office directly at 888.904.6847 to schedule your free consultation.


John L. Keefe
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Founding Attorney, Massachusetts Social Security Disability Lawyer