How to file for disability, Filing for SSI
Disability Requirements, Disability Status
How long is the wait?, Disability Application
The Social Security List of Impairments
Qualifying for Disability, Mental Disability
Disability Lawyer Info, Disability Back Pay

Do Social Security Disability Judges Read your Medical Records?

This might seem like an odd title for a post but someone in a forum or on another site--I can't recall which--recently wrote that ALJs (administrative law judges, the individuals who conduct disability hearings for social security)...do not read medical records, nor do social security administration MDs, who, the poster went on to say, also do not perform lab tests. Is this even remotely true?

Well, the "social security administration MDs", as this person phrased it, are actually medical consultants who are assigned to case processing units that are full of disability examiners. The examiners themselves spend the better part of their days reading medical records. And, no, these SSA medical consultants do not perform lab tests. But, then, why would they? Their purpose is not to deliver treatment, nor is it to render a diagnosis. Their purpose, in part, however, is to do something similar to what a disability examiner does, which is read the claimant's medical records and then determine the claimant's relative ability to engage in work activity, either at one of their former jobs or at some type of other work.

Why is there a disability examiner and an MD employed by the social security administration performing similar functions? Because the examiner is the individual who actually takes care of the leg work for the development of a disability claim. The examiner requests the records, does followups when the records fail to arrive, conducts interviews with disability claimants (usually regarding their work activity, medical treatment sources, or their activities of daily living), and considers vocational issues that may influence the case, in addition to medical issues that may influence the residual functional capacity rating a claimant is given.

The Social Security Disability doctor does none of the legwork required to get the actual elements of a case lined up.

However, the medical consultant (or psychological consultant, if the claimant's alleged impairments are of a mental nature) does review the examiner's writeup of the case and performs his or her own rating of the claimant's functional abilities and limitations. And the doctor does this because...he or she is a doctor while the examiner is not.

Disability examiners are not medical professionals. They are trained to evaluate medical record documentation and to consider such documents in the context of the SSA disability process. But, in most instances, the opinion of a disability examiner only becomes valid if the examiner's unit medical consultant signs off on the case, thereby giving it a stamp of approval from a licensed physician.

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These pages provide answers to basic questions about pursuing disability benefits

How to check the status of my Social Security Disability claim
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Preparation to win a disability hearing
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Social Security Disability Maximum back pay
Social Security Disability Claims and Medical Exams
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Partial Social Security Disability SSI benefits
Filing for disability and financial help
Getting approved after a Social Security Disability Psychological exam
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Does Social Security Disability Come With Medicaid Benefits?
Applying for Disability or SSI - How long does it take
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Conditions that get approved for disability

For the sake of clarity, SSDRC.com is not the Social Security Administration, nor is it associated or affiliated with SSA. This site is a personal, private website that is published, edited, and maintained by former caseworker and former disability claims examiner, Tim Moore, who was interviewed by the New York Times on the topic of Social Security Disability and SSI benefits in an article entitled "The Disability Mess" and also by the Los Angeles Times on the subject of political attempts to weaken the Social Security Disability system.

The goal of the site is to provide information about how Social Security Disability and SSI work, the idea being that qualified information may help claimants pursue their claims and appeals, potentially avoiding time-consuming mistakes. If you find the information on this site helpful and believe it would be helpful to others, feel free to share links to its homepage or other pages on website resource pages, blogs, or social media. Copying of this material, however, is prohibited.

To learn more about the author, please visit the SSDRC.com homepage and view the "about this site" link near the bottom of the page.