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Pain Medication and Your Social Security Disability Claim at the Application and Recon Levels

My wife and I recently had a discussion regarding pain medication and how it affects people. She, like me, is a former disability examiner for disability determination services.

For those who are unaware, claims that are filed in social security offices get sent to an agency that is known in most states as DDS, or disability determination services. At that agency, each social security disability claim and SSI claim is assigned to a disability examiner (if you filed under both programs, it becomes a single concurrent file for the examiner) who basically does all of the processing legwork on the case, eventually taking the claim to a decision point where the claim is either approved or denied.

So, what was the discussion about? Backdrop: she, like me, has an ongoing back condition (most likely, some level of degenerative disc disease) and her back had "gone out" recently. This put her in the position of having to use anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants (flexeril), and prescription pain medication.The effect of all these meds, as it has been in the past, was to make her tired, less co-ordinated, and somewhat clouded in thought. This, of course, is exactly the kind of thing that is reported by individuals who file for disability benefits.

Obviously, since we've both been down this particular road before (back injury and pain medication), these collateral effects are not something new and unsurprising. However, the occasion did allow us to reflect back to the time that we handled disability claims for the social security administration.

How much consideration does social security actually give to the fact that a person who is applying for disability is having to take pain medications? At the disability application or reconsideration appeal levels, my recollection is that not a lot of consideration is given at all. Disability examiners will do their write-ups of cases (usually a notation of the more prominent bits of the medical evidence of record) and will present this information to the medical consultant in their case processing unit. But seldom ever (unless changes have changed significantly since I was an examiner) will there be significant discussion in writing, or during the consultation between the disability examiner and the medical consultant (the doctor who actually works at DDS), of the potential, or likely, impact of the pain medications on the claimant's ability to engage in normal daily activities.

This is unfortunate and poses an unfair disadvantage to claimants. And it does for many reasons. Pain medications have a definite impact on activities of daily living and on one's ability to persist in a work environment. The effects of pain medications are many, including nausea, gastrointestinal effects, fatigue, drowsiness, breathing impairment, mental fogginess, slowed reaction times, etc.

Most jobs are would be seriously impacted by side effects such as these. Yet, why is it then that when cases are evaluated by disability examiners very little consideration is given to the side effects and limitations posed by pain meds?

1. Most disability examiners are younger individuals who have very little to any experience with pain related conditions and age-related conditions that involve pain.

2. The Social security administration has a very long history of giving very little credence to the limiting effects of pain.

3. The doctors who serve as medical consultants at disability determination services (the agency that renders decisions on claims for SSA) have generally been out of practice and out of contact with patients for quite some time. A number of them spent very little time with patients before deciding to abandon field practice for the security and ease of working in an office as a medical consultant (think about it: What kind of "doctor" prefers reading files on people he has never met to actually using his or her medical degree to treat patients or perform research? Answer: not a very good one)

Return to:  Social Security Disability Resource Center, or read answers to Questions

Related pages:

When do you get a letter about your disability benefit amount?
Applying for SSD and SSI at the same time
Help from a disability attorney
Winning Social Security Disability Benefits For Mental Disorders
Will inheriting affect my eligibility to receive disability?
Someone to help with my Social Security Disability case
Social Security Disability SSI appeals deadlines
How to file for disability in Missouri
Filing for disability with aspergers
Can You Get Approved For SSI or SSD Benefits if you Have A Mental Condition
Check your SSDI and SSI claim status
How to file for disability in New Mexico
Filing for disability with arthritis, osteoarthritis
Should you get a Disability Lawyer before you File
How social security evaluates attention deficit

Information on the following topics can be found here: Social Security Disability Questions and in these subsections:

Frequently asked questions about getting Denied for Disability Benefits | FAQ on Disability Claim Representation | Info about Social Security Disability Approvals and Being Approved | FAQ on Social Security Disability SSI decisions | The SSD SSI Decision Process and what gets taken into consideration | Disability hearings before Judges | Medical exams for disability claims | Applying for Disability in various states | Selecting and hiring Disability Lawyers | Applying for Disability in North Carolina | Recent articles and answers to questions about SSD and SSI

These pages provide answers to basic questions about pursuing disability benefits

How to claim disability
Disability claim appeal status
How to get you Social Security Disability status
How does a person qualify for disability benefits?
How do you Apply for SSI?
How Much Income Can you Earn If you draw Social Security Disability?
Can you work if you get SSI?
How long will you get disability after an award notice?
If You Get Social Security Disability or SSI, Will Your Dependents Get A Check?
Social Security Disability denied
Time on a Social Security Disability Decision
How to apply for disability for a child or children
Denied Twice For SSD or SSI Disability, What Do I Do?
f I get disability will my children receive benefits?
Social Security Disability SSI - Retroactive Benefits Vs Back Pay Benefits
How long do you have To Be Out Of Work Before You Get Social Security Disability (SSD)?
How to file for disability and medical conditions
What Does Social Security Consider To Be a Disability?
When does social security consider you eligible for disability benefits?
Qualifying for disability benefits with the social security administration
How to get disability
Will I be approved for disability on my appeal?
How to appeal a disability denial