Will I have to go to a mental examination if I apply for disability?

I recently found this statement in a forum.

"They may also ask you to go to see a shrink to determine if depression is a factor with your inability to work. Do they expect that one should be not depressed over all of this?"

Actually, it would be unusual for anyone who has to apply for disability to not experience some level of depression. The process is long, confusing, and somewhat adversarial. And most claimants, at some point in the disability evaluation process, are subjected to severe stress as a result of the financial implications of having to wait for months or years for a favorable resolution on a Social Security Disability or SSI claim.

Will you have to go to a mental exam if you need to file for disability?

Examinations that are required by SSA are known as consultative examinations, or CEs for short. Consultative exams are scheduled by disability examiners at the inital claim and first appeal levels, and by administrative law judges at the hearing level.

Why are they scheduled? In most cases, because a claimant has not been to a doctor recently. And in other cases, a consultative exam (often referred to as a social security medical exam) may be scheduled because a claimant's records indicate the possible existence of a condition for which a claimant has never received treatment.

So, to answer the question, a claimant will sometimes be sent to a psychological or psychiatric consultative examination:

1. if they've not been treated for their condition recently.

2. if there is no evidence that they've ever been treated for a condition they may have "potentially" have (for this reason, an applicant for disability benefits who does not allege a mental condition but shows signs of having a mental impairment, however scant, may be sent to a psychological exam (IQ testing), a psychiatric evaluation, or a mental status exam).

3. if additional information of a specific type is missing from the claimant's medical records (xrays, for instance).

Note the phrase in item 2: Potentially have. What do I mean by this? Here's what I mean---if a disability examiner or judge sees in your personal physician's notes the simple statement "patient seems depressed", then the adjudicator (the examiner or judge) may be obligated to send you to a mental consultative exam even if you do not claim to be depressed on your application and have never sought treatment for depression.

In fact, many disability claimants are very surprised when they are informed that they must attend a mental exam when they have filed for disability on the basis of a purely physical impairment, such as rheumatoid arthritis, or the spinal condition degenerative disc disease, or heart problems.

However, a disability examiner or judge may be obligated to schedule a mental exam simply to ensure that the claimant receives full consideration for their impairments...even impairments they do not believe they have.

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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