What do Doctors Know about Social Security Disability?

Someone, in a comment, recently said that their doctor would not fill out an RFC form for them to help them with their case. Apparently, he held the opinion that it wasn't his job to do but the job of social security. I wince when I read things like this for two reasons.

First of all, I hate reading that someone's treating physician won't help them prepare them for their disability hearing (something that, these days, may take two years or longer to get to), particularly when a completed medical source statement from the claimant's doctor can potentially carry the day at a hearing and especially considering the fact that it may only take ten minutes or so to complete such a form.

Secondly, it illustrates yet again that many, perhaps most doctors, know very little about the federal government's two disability programs, Social Security Disability and SSI.

For instance, many doctors labor under an illogical belief that if they submit a simple statement categorically declaring that their patient is disabled, that should be enough to close a case and award someone benefits. Such beliefs, however, reveal a complete ignorance of how Social Security Disability and SSI disability actually work.

Both programs are guided by a definition of disability that requires a claimant to prove, through medical record documentation, and possibly statements from treating physicians, that their condition results in functional limitations severe enough to rule out the ability to engage in substantial and gainful work activity, either of a kind that they've done before (known as past relevant work), or of a kind suited and relevant to their job skills, age, education, and current limitations (known, appropriately enough, as "other work").

As such, what is required of disability adjudicators--the individual examiners and administrative law judges who make decisions on claims--is that a claimant's medical history be evaluated thoroughly enough so that their functional limitations may be ascertained to determine if they actually can go back to a former job, or engage in some type of other work.

Unfortunately, most medical records provide little input as to the effects a claimant's condition has on their physical or mental function (the ability to sit, stand, reach, lift, remember, maintain concentration, etc). This being the case, detailed statements from physicians regarding a patient's residual functional capacity i.e. what they can still do despite their condition, can be extraordinarily helpful to a disability claim, especially in light of the fact that physician's notes typically do not make much useful reference to functionality.

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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