How to file for disability, Filing for SSI
Disability Requirements, Disability Status
How long is the wait?, Disability Application
The Social Security List of Impairments
Qualifying for Disability, Mental Disability
Disability Lawyer Info, Disability Back Pay

The Medical Evidence Used on a Social Security Disability or SSI Claim

Social Security Disability (SSD) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are awarded to those who, due to a severe physical or mental impairment, are unable to earn a substantial, gainful wage.

Thus, the focus of the disability examiner deciding a claim is not just whether a claimant is impaired, but whether the impairment is severe and long lasting enough to prevent the claimant from performing any type of work at which he or she might earn a living.

Related: How severe must your condition be before you can be awarded disability benefits?.

Decisions are based on Medical Evidence

The only way for a disability examiner to make this determination on a claim is by reviewing the claimant’s medical evidence i.e. medical records. Ideally, by the time one files for disability he or she has already received treatment from at least one acceptable medical source.

It’s important to note here that, in the eyes of the SSA, not every medical treatment source is “acceptable.” Licensed physicians, psychiatrists, and psychologists are acceptable sources, and their medical records can be used to help prove a claim for disability. Chiropractors, acupuncturists, massage therapists, etc., are not acceptable medical sources, and opinions from these individuals will not carry any weight with the examiner.

If you are considering filing a claim for disability, your best course of action is to document your symptoms and diagnosis by seeing a licensed physician (or mental health professional, if the basis of your claim is a mental disorder). Try to see a doctor who is a specialist in the field for your particular type of disorder.

For instance, an orthopedic doctor for back or neck pain, or a doctor who specializes in pain management (some anesthesiologists perform this type of treatment now, as well as physicians who specialize in physical and medical rehabilitation), and a psychiatrist for treatment of severe depression, bipolar, etc. While records from your family doctor will prove useful, they may not be as helpful to your case as an opinion from a medical specialist.

In addition to ensuring that you have enough medical evidence to back up your claim, you should also provide Social Security with correct contact information for any medical facility from which you have received treatment. Far too often it takes a disability examiner several months to receive records from physicians, which can only delay a decision on your claim. Be sure that you have supplied Social Security with correct names, addresses, and phone numbers to ensure that this part of the process goes as smoothly as possible.

When determining the medical evidence you will submit for your SSD or SSI application, doctor’s notes from ER visits, clinics, etc., should not be overlooked. Any results from medical tests that support your claim, such as MRIs, CAT scans, X-rays, lab tests, or any mental exams performed by a psychiatrist or psychologist are valid sources of medical evidence and should be included in your file.

There’s one final thing to keep in mind about medical records, and that is, even if you have received treatment for several years for your impairment, the records may not state that you are unable to work. Why? Because physicians generally keep notes for themselves rather than for disability examiners. They are concerned with a patient’s physical or mental health, rather than that patient’s ability to work.

So, if you are filing for SSD or SSI, it’s a good idea to make this known to your treating physician. In this way you can determine if your physician is inclined to help your claim, or will be of no help because a) he doesn’t want to bother with it; or b) he does not believe you cannot work.

If you find that this is your physician’s attitude or belief system, the best thing you can do is find a more sympathetic physician. No one wants to “doctor shop,” but realistically, if your physician is unwilling to state you are disabled, it looks bad for your case.

If your physician is willing to support your claim for Social Security Disability, then you should probably go one step further and ask the physician to be sure your records include three important pieces of information: 1) Your date of onset (when symptoms first began to be disabling); 2) your current level of disability; and 3) your prognosis (if your condition is likely to improve, stay the same, or worsen over time).

You could also ask your physician to fill out an RFC form, which details your residual functional capacity (what you can or cannot do in light of your impairment). These forms are pretty basic, and shouldn’t take a physician more than 10 or 15 minutes to complete.

The benefit of an RFC is that it tells the disability examiner (or judge if you have appealed your claim to the hearing level) exactly what you are physically or mentally capable of doing. It’s a lot easier to understand for most non-medical professionals than doctor’s notes or medical records, and thus could be very instrumental in winning a claim for disability.

Note: if you have representation (a disability lawyer), this individual will usually try to obtain an RFC form from your treating physician at the time of a disability hearing.

Essential Questions

What is the Social Security Disability SSI list of impairments?

Can you work while getting or applying for Disability?

How Often Does Social Security Approve Disability The First Time You Apply?

Tips for getting Social Security Disability or SSI benefits approved

What medical conditions will get you approved for disability?

What kind of Mental Problems Qualify for Disability?

Receiving a Disability Award Letter

Conditions Social Security will recognize as a disability

Previously answered questions regarding SSD and SSI

Applying for disability in your state

Most popular topics on SSDRC.com

Social Security Disability SSI Questions

The listings, list of disabling impairments

Can a mental illness qualify you for disability?

Disability Lawyers prevent unnecessary denials

How much Social Security Disability SSI back pay?

How to apply for disability for a child or children

Filing a Social Security Disability SSI application

Filing for disability - when to file

How to apply for disability - where to apply

Qualifications for disability benefits

How to Prove you are disabled and Win your Disability Benefits

Qualifying for Disability - The Process

How to get disability for depression

Getting disability for fibromyalgia

SSI disability for children with ADHD

What is the Application Process for Social Security Disability and SSI?

Common Mistakes to avoid after being denied for Disability

Social Security Disability SSI Exam tips

More Social Security Disability SSI Questions

Social Security Disability SSI definitions

What makes you eligible for Social Security Disability or SSI?

New and featured pages on SSDRC.com

Who can help me file for disability?

Related pages:

Social Security Denied Me But Didn’t Have All My Medical Records?
How Can You Get Medical Records For A Disability Case without Insurance?
Can you be denied disability if social security cannot find your medical records?
Social Security Disability Medical Records
How Far Back Does Social Security Look At Medical Records for SSDI SSI?
Social Security Disability, Medical Records, and a Person's Limitations
Medical Evidence on a Social Security Disability or SSI Claim
Getting your medical records can speed up your disability claim
Will a Disability attorney try to Help You get Your Medical Records?
SSI disability and monthly mortgage payments
If you apply for disability in Texas
Disability requirements in Texas
Qualifying For Disability in Texas

These pages answer some of the most basic questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim.

Can you get temporary Social Security Disability or SSI benefits?

Permanent Social Security Disability

What is the difference between Social Security Disability and SSI?

Who is eligible for SSI disability?

Can I Be Eligible For SSI And Social Security Disability At The Same Time?

What makes a person eligible to receive disability benefits?

Applying for Disability - How long does it take to get Social Security Disability or SSI benefits?

What happens if I file a disability application and it is denied by a disability examiner or Judge?

For the sake of clarity, SSDRC.com is not the Social Security Administration, nor is it associated or affiliated with SSA. This site is a personal, private website that is published, edited, and maintained by former caseworker and former disability claims examiner, Tim Moore, who was interviewed by the New York Times on the topic of Social Security Disability and SSI benefits in an article entitled "The Disability Mess" and also by the Los Angeles Times on the subject of political attempts to weaken the Social Security Disability system.

The goal of the site is to provide information about how Social Security Disability and SSI work, the idea being that qualified information may help claimants pursue their claims and appeals, potentially avoiding time-consuming mistakes. If you find the information on this site helpful and believe it would be helpful to others, feel free to share links to its homepage or other pages on website resource pages, blogs, or social media. Copying of this material, however, is prohibited.

To learn more about the author, please visit the SSDRC.com homepage and view the "about this site" link near the bottom of the page.