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

Are SSI and Social Security Disability Requirements Tougher For Mental Claims?

Are SSI and Social Security Disability Requirements Tougher For Mental Claims? Social Security Disability requirements for mental impairments are no more difficult than those for physical impairments on the face of it.

The definition of disability for Social Security purposes is any medically determinable physical or mental impairment that has prevented a person from performing substantial gainful activity (a monthly earnings amount that Social Security has determined to be self supporting) for twelve continuous months or is expected to prevent the person from performing SGA for twelve continuous months, or is expected to result in the death of the person.

Considering Social Security’s definition of disability, all impairments should be considered equally. However it seems tougher for individuals with mental impairments to win Social Security Disability benefits.

From my experience as a Social Security Disability examiner, I think that the evaluation of mental limitations is often more subjective than the evaluation of physical impairments. Disability examiners are regular people with their own opinions and biases, which could explain why it is often more difficult for a disability applicant to win their disability based upon a mental impairment.

In the past, Social Security sometimes considered mental impairments other than mental retardation, learning delays, or organic brain syndrome as a durational situation (situations in which the disability claimant is likely to be no longer be disabled within twelve months) rather than as a lifetime disability.

Recently, I have noticed that Social Security is beginning to look at mental impairments more realistically. For example, there is really no way that a person with schizophrenia will no longer be schizophrenic in twelve months time so a durational denial is utterly ridiculous.

As far as the evaluation process for mental impairments vs. physical impairments goes, there is very little difference in the process. Individuals alleging disability based upon a mental impairment are subjected to the same five step sequential evaluation process that is used for individuals with a physical impairment.

The first step involves the performance of substantial gainful activity, or SGA. If an individual is performing SGA-level work, they will be denied prior to a medical determination no matter whether their impairment is, mental or physical.

Translation, if you are working and earning at least the SGA cutoff amount when you file for disability benefits, the social security office will not bother to send your case to a disability examiner and medical records will not be gathered on your behalf. Your case will simply be denied immediately because you are working and earning too much to be considered for disability benefits.

If a person is not performing SGA, the second step involves a determination as whether or not the individual has a medically determinable impairment. If the individual does have a medically determinable impairment, step three involves determining if an individual has a severe impairment. Both of these questions can be addressed and answered after the medical records have been requested and reviewed by a disability examiner.

If it is determined that the claimant's disabling impairment meets or equals the severity criteria of an impairment listing (in the Social Security Disability list of impairments, otherwise known as the blue book, and officially titled "Disability Evaluation under Social Security"), they will be medically approved for disability benefits.

If the individual has a severe impairment that does not meet or equal the criteria of an impairment listing (and this is usually the case), they may still be approved for disability benefits, but on the basis of a determination that involves reviewing both their medical history and vocational work history. Such approvals are known as a medical vocational allowance.

How does a medical vocational allowance work? This can occur if the claimant is determined to be unable to perform any of their past work (Step 4) and are also found to be unable to perform "other types of work" when their limitations are considered (Step 5).

In other words, individuals who do not meet or equal an impairment listing but have a severely restricted residual functional capacity may be approved when their A) age, education, and work history are considered and B) the combination of these factors shows that they cannot be expected to work at a former job or at some other job and earn what is considered to be a supportive living wage (substantial gainful activity).

One tip that might help an individual with a mental impairment be approved for disability benefits would be to have a medical history that includes clinical notes, a history of prescribed medications, documentation regarding response to medications, and counseling notes that support the claimant’s allegation of being unable to maintain employment.

Claimants should also remember that, no matter what their impairment is, they must be able to show that their condition has prevented them from performing substantial gainful activity. Even though the evaluation of mental limitations can be more subjective on the part of disability examiners, it is hard to deny objective medical evidence that supports that a person is disabled by their mental impairment.

Note: When Social Security Disability and SSI disability cases are taken to hearings (at which the final decision lies in the hands of a federally appointed administrative law judge), a claimant's disability lawyer or non-attorney disability representative will often attempt to secure an opinion from the claimant's treating physician (or treating physicians if the claimant has more than one) that details the claimant's diagnosis, prognosis, and functional limitations.

In the case of a mental impairment, the claimant's representative will also often obtain a synopsis statement from a treating psychiatrist or psychologist that condenses and explains the claimant's history of treatment. This is often done because many mental health professionals are hesitant to release their actual records, presumably out of concern for the claimant's well-being, and possibly due to the fact that the mental health professional's treatment notes do not adequately address their patient's status and functional limitations.

Related: What can I expect from a Social Security Mental Examination or Evaluation?

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

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The listings, list of disabling impairments

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Filing a Social Security Disability SSI application

Filing for disability - when to file

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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

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Related pages:

Who qualifies for disability? - Qualifying is based on evidence of functional limitations
The Social Security Disability Approval Process and the Criteria for Decisions
How does Social Security Disability decide that you cannot work?
How do you Win Benefits under Social Security Disability or SSI?
Medical Disability Requirements for SSD and SSI
The non-medical Disability Requirements for SSD and SSI
Social Security Disability, previous employers, and past job work performance
What are the qualifications for disability in Texas?
How much can I get from Social Security Disability in Texas?
Get a qualified disability attorney, lawyer 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.