Should you Look at the Disability File that Social Security has on You?

In many cases, it will be debatable as to whether or not claimants will be able to extract much useful information from reviewing their own file. This is because, unlike a disability examiner or a field office CR (CR stands for claims rep and claims reps are the individuals who take both social security retirement and disability claims at social security offices), or a disability attorney, the average claimant will probably have difficulty interpreting the information in the file.

And, in fact, without an understanding of the medical vocational disability rules used by social security examiners (and social security administrative law judges), it would be difficult to fully understand how a decision even gets made, let alone whether or not a mistake was made on a case, or if the decision is procedurally incorrect or if there is an evidentiary error.

However, having said this, the two facts still remain:

A. Claimants are always allowed to view the information contained in their file and even receive a copy of their file on disc simply by making a request for this information.

B. The information in the claimant's disability file CAN allow them to gain more of an understanding as to what previously happened in the processing of their claim.

Regarding B, for example, a claimant whose case has gone through the disability application and reconsideration appeal stages can, before the case gets to an administrative law judge hearing, find out the following by reviewing their file:

1. What evidence was gathered by the social security administration (SSA) via the disability examiner. By doing this, the claimant can also check to see whether or not all the evidence from a particular medical source was actually gathered, or even if entire sources of treatment were omitted and, as a result, were not part of the evaluation process.

2. How their past jobs were classified by the disability examiner. How the disability examiner classifies these job depends largely on the information provided by the claimant at the time they file for disability, but it also depends on the examiner matching the claimant's description of their job along with the job titles listed in something known as the DOT, or dictionary of occupational titles.

How a job is classified can be extremely important since, along with the job title, there will also be A) a rating of the requirements of the job and B) the skill level that goes with the job. The physical and mental requirements of the job and the skill level can set the stage for a case being denied on the basis of the claimant being able to do their past work, or being denied on the basis of being able to do some type of other work. And this is why proper classification can be crucial. However, sometimes disability examiners misidentify a job.

By reviewing the medical evidence that was previously considered by a disability examiner, and by looking at how past work was evaluated, a claimant can gain at least some understanding of what happened on their case. It can also allow a claimant to have a more detailed discussion regarding their claim when they decide to speak with a disability lawyer about handling their case either on the request for a reconsideration, or on the request for hearing before an administrative law judge.

Note: Claimants whose cases were based entirely, or in part, on a mental allegation (such as depression or bipolar disorder) will not be given the opportunity to review their mental medical records. This is because SSA has taken the position that it may not necessarily be in the claimant's best interests to read what their counselor or psychiatrist has written about their condition.

So, for example, if a claimant is sent to a mental CE (a consultative examination that usually involves assessing a mental status, performing a full psychiatric evaluatation, or doing memory or intelligence testing), they will not be able to obtain a copy of the report, though it can be sent to their treating physician and that person can choose what to divulge or not divulge to the claimant.

Likewise, if the claimant requests a copy of their file on disc, they will receive all portions of the file except those medical records that are related to mental treatment.

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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