Social Security Disability Mental Psychological Exam and Questions that get Asked

What are some of the questions you may be asked if you are sent to a psychological exam for Social Security Disability? We'll answer that in part two of this post. However, part one will briefly discuss what social security examinations are.

Part I - General information about Consultative Examinations for disability

If you file an application and apply for Social Security Disability or SSI disability, there is always the chance that, during the processing of your claim, you may be sent to what is known as a consultative examination. Consultative exams are scheduled in two basic types of scenarios: A) When a claimant has not been seen by a treatment specialist (this could be a physician or psychiatrist) for an appreciable amount of time or B) when a claimant has a condition for which he or she does not seem to have any medical record documentation.

In the case of A, claimants are often sent to mental or physical exams if they have not been seen by a treatment specialist within the last 90 days. Why? Because before social security can make a decision on a disability case, they need to be sure that the decision is being rendered on the basis of recent records. After all, conditions change over time. They worsen, get better, and how a claimant is doing in the present may not be the same as how they were doing two months ago.

In the case of B, it is fairly common that a person who has applied for disability benefits will list depression on the claim or anxiety on the disability application while never having been treated for either.

In either scenario, though, a claimant may be sent to a consultative exam. Consultative exams are often referred to as social security medical exams. However, contrary to myth, they are not performed by social security doctors. They are actually conducted by independent private physicians, psychiatrists, and psychologists who have agreed to examine disability claimants in return for compensation.

Examinations of this sort are typically fairly short, sometimes lasting as little as ten minutes for physical exams. Mental exams, of course, due to the nature of the testing, are generally longer.

After a consultative examination has been conducted, the physician, psychologist, or psychiatrist who conducted the exam will submit a report to either the disability examiner or the disability judge who requested the exam. In general terms, the individual who conducted the exam is expected to have this report completed and sent within 10 days of the examination.

Can the results of a physical or mental exam make the difference between winning a disability case or losing a disability case? In all honesty, in most cases, the exam does not make much of a difference and it only serves to provide a recent snapshot of a claimant's case (so the adjudicator, or decision-maker, can close the case). However, in the case of mental impairment claims (
Part 2 - Questions that are asked on Social Security Mental Exams

If you are sent to a mental examination for a Social Security Disability or SSI disability case, it will fall into one of the following categories: A) A full psychiatric exam, B) A psychological exam that basically equates to an IQ test, C) a mental status exam (MSE) or D) a memory scale (typically for claimants who report difficulty with short term memory).

A memory scale may be ordered for a claimant who has suffered a head injury or a stroke. As an examiner, I've also seen memory scales ordered for claimants with depression and fibromyalgia. Very often, the type of exam a claimant is sent to will depend on the symptoms they list on their disability application and the severity of the symptoms as they describe them. A psychiatric exam conducted by an MD will usually be reserved for individuals with mood disorder, affective disorders, and psychotic disorders. Psychologicals (as we said, basically an IQ test) are often ordered for individuals for whom the record indicates a decline in cognitive ability. Psychologicals are also ordered for claimants with low educational attainment or a history of accomodation in the public school system (special classes).

Mental Status Exams, however, are some of the more frequently given mental exams for Social Security Disability and SSI claims. The purpose of an MSE is to gauge a person's thought processes, memory, language skills, and orientation (i.e. where they are, who they are, when it is, and who others are).

What are some of the questions that get asked? Here are just a few examples: being asked to remember specific items several minutes later; being asked who the current President is; being asked to interpret a common metaphor that most individuals would understand; being asked to count backward subtracting a certain number along the way.

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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