Even when pain is debilitating and disabling, a disability claim can be denied

I just read a story about a police officer whose degenerative disc disease was bad enough that he was forced to leave his job in law enforcement. Was he approved for Social Security Disability benefits? No, unfortunately and not surprisingly, he was denied.

It's really amazing how the disability system treats claims in which back problems are prominent, including spinal stenosis, ankylosing spondylitis, and, of course, degenerative disc disease. When I was a disability examiner, we would sometimes joke that more Social Security Disability cases involving back problems would get approved for disability...if more disability examiners and more state-agency medical consultants (the doctors who provide consultation to disability examiners) had ever suffered back problems themselves.

Trying to win disability benefits is usually a difficult process for most claimants, but it can be even more difficult when the claimant's impairment involves debilitating pain. In the past, the social security administration has done such a poor job of considering pain as a disabling factor that they've been sued as a result.

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. For more on this topic: How does Social Security consider pain?.

If you have pain, this tip is important: Do not try to minimize your symptoms, your conditions, or how they affect your ability to do normal daily activities. Very few claimants are aware of how their statements and actions may be used against them.


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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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