How does Social Security consider pain?
As a Social Security Disability examiner, I saw cases involving pain all the time. And by that I mean chronic pain cases involving degenerative disc problems, RSD, fibromyalgia (and a number of other conditions which I won't list) and simply chronic pain by itself. How much consideration does the social security administration give to "pain". Sadly , not much at all.
This is partly the fault of doctors (treating physicians) who fail to document the limiting effects of pain in their treatment notes (and, in general, doctors fail to note functional limitations in their records), and the fault of the social security administration in failing to address pain and the limitations caused by pain.
How could SSA address something which a disability claimant's own doctors may have done little to document? Sending a medical source statement--also known as an RFC, or residual functional capacity form--to a claimant's treating physicians at the initial claim or reconsideration level might be a good way to start.
Unfortunately, this is not something that SSA instructs disability examiners to do. Cost may be a factor since doctors are less likely to complete such forms without receiving compensation for their time. Likewise, SSA would probably be forced to pay on more claims if RFC forms were routinely sent out as a matter of case processing).
However, claimants can take an active role in this regard by requesting that their treating physician(s) complete on their behalf a detailed statement regarding their medical condition and functional limitations.
And if severe and unrelenting pain is a factor in a claimant's inability to work, there's no reason why this cannot be addressed in the physician's statement. Claimants who make such requests of their doctor(s) should, of course, explain the need for providing detail in describing mental or physical functional limitations.
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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