Social Security Disability Advice from the Wrong Sources

A conversation with an individual who was contemplating filing for disability revealed that he had been bad advice from multiple sources. One of those sources was his own psychiatrist. Even worse, however, was the fact that the other source of bad direction and advice was from the social security office that he had inquired into applying for disability with.

Let's address the first source. What was said to him by his treating psychiatrist? He was told by his psychiatrist that he was not disabled and could do something else for a living. This advice, of course, was not helpful and not useful.

Speaking as a former disability examiner, the advice could only be characterized as the sort of information that would come from an individual--regardless of the fact that they might be working as a trained treatment professional--who knew nothing about the Social Security Disability program or SSI program (which, from a case processing standpoint, are practically the same program since as far as the medical disability criteria is concerned, what makes one eligible and disabled for one, will satisfy the eligibility requirements of the other.

First, unless a psychiatrist is working for the social security administration as a mental consultant (mental and medical consultants provide consultation and support to disability examiners; technically speaking, disability examiners render decisions on claims.

However, examiners are not medical personnel and have no specific training in this regard), it is highly unlikely that they even begin to understand what the social security definition of disability states and, therefore, what it is that makes a person disabled.

Secondly, because this person's psychiatrist advised him that he could do something else for a living, it even more clearly highlighted how much the psychiatrist did not understand the concept of disability as used by the social security administration.

Social security uses a definition of disability that states that a person must be disabled for at least one full year before disability benefits can be awarded. During that minimum length of time, the person must have functional limitations (physical or mental) that are severe enough to make it impossible for them to work and earn a substantial and gainful income.

This means they must be unable to work and earn a gainful living at their former job. However, it is also means their condition must be severe enough that they cannot return to any of the past work that they have done in the past 15 years.

And it is also means that their condition must be severe enough that they cannot find other employment that utilizes their physical and mental capabilities, age (some jobs will be considered less likely based on a person's age), education, and job training or vocational skills.

It's fairly obvious from the psychiatrist's statements that they were entirely ignorant of how SSA views disability. For SSA purposes, disability means lacking the ability to engage in work activity at a level that enables a person to earn a livable income (perhaps we should say barely livable since the SGA, or substantial gainful activity, limit is very low).

It is also obvious, and painfully so, that the psychiatrist did not recognize that her patient who is currently 59 years old, would not necessarily have a great deal of advantage in seeking employment when pitted against younger job applicants in a competitive job market.

Fortunately, the social security administration does. The medical vocational grid of social security rules makes the prospect of receiving a Social Security Disability award or SSI award a bit easier for claimants who are between the ages of 50 and 54. At age 55, the rules become more favorable yet again.

This is the case due to a realization by the federal government that is rooted in commonsense: as individuals get older, their vocational opportunities will become less.

This is often the case regardless of the quality of a person's resume, or the depth of their skills and training. And it simply becomes a fact that individuals, as they age, will have more difficulty finding new employment and new types of employment (e.g. younger workers can be paid less, for one thing), a situation only considerably aggravated when a physical or mental impairment is involved.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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