Tips for Social Security Disability Psychological and mental testing

by Tim Moore, Disability Representative in North Carolina

Social Security Disability Psychological and mental testing

If you file an application for disability benefits with the social security administration and one of the conditions you list is mental in nature, there’s a fair chance that you’ll be sent to a mental consultative examination of some type; more so if the record of treatment is slim.

(Read if you live in North Carolina)

What is a Social Security mental consultative examination?

In most cases, this will be a psychological exam performed by a psychologist who is not employed by the social security administration, but who has agreed to conduct testing on a contract basis for SSA. These exams do not determine the outcome of disability cases by themselves. But they do provide additional medical record documentation that can, in instances, have a considerable effect on the outcome of cases.

Why will Social Security send you to a mental exam?

When it comes to mental exams, the case is often not just lacking for “recency” but substantive documentation. In other words, a claimant may be sent to a memory scale exam because there are indications (directly alleged by the claimant or not) of memory deficits. Or, the claimant may be sent to psychological IQ testing because the examiner is attempting to develop the case for impaired cognitive functioning (i.e. borderline intellectual functioning, mental retardation to whatever degree it may or may not exist).

As a former examiner, I can state that the majority of consultative exams, both physical and mental, are scheduled simply because the disability examiner is lacking recent medical records and needs recent documentation in order to close the case.

Tip 1: exams can be long or short.

I came across someone else’s blog and the individual was commenting on the fact that her mother was sent to a consultative examination (a CE exam) for her Social Security Disability application. The exam was a psychological CE, designed to gauge a client’s mental status and level of psychological functional limitations.

The blogger indicated that the exam took 2 1/2 hours to complete. Not every psychological CE may take this long, but there’s no question that the mental exams scheduled by social security are not at all like consultative physical exams—not when it comes to the time element (it is extremely common to hear a disability claimant state that their physical consultative exam took only ten minutes).

On the other hand, this was written by an individual regarding a consultative exam that they attended.

“I went to my Psychologist exam and it was only 25 minutes. He had a checklist of questions about my relationships with people, asking to recall words he said earlier, counting backwards, what I did that I cannot do now besides work. He did not ask me about the pain I suffer from nor did we review my medical reports. I thought this appeared very quickly, so I’m not sure what the outcome will be. I only hope that the decision will be based on the six inch thick notebook I provided with detailed medical reports.”

As you can see from this individual’s reported experience, exams can also be fairly short. The claimant noted that the examining psychologist for social security did not make an inquiry regarding the claimant’s pain. However, to be frank, this is not the job of the psychologist. The psychologist who performs an examination for social securityz has an even more defined role than the independent medical doctor who conducts physical exams for social security because mental testing follows a precise format.

Lastly, the individual noted that they had supplied medical records. Can this be beneficial? As a former disability examiner, my answer is yes. There were several occasions during the development of a case that I had difficulty procuring medical records from one treatment source or another, only to finally get the needed records because the claimant/patient had made a personal visit to their doctor to gather the records.

Tip 2: make sure you are properly rested before testing.

A claimant who is required to attend a psychological exam would probably find it beneficial to get a decent amount of sleep the night before because if it seems apparent to the psychologist administering the exam that “best effort” was not given, the exam results may be considered invalid. That, of course, amounts to a waste of time for everyone, including the disability claimant.

Tip 3: never give less than your best effort.

Here’s another tip: never try, for whatever reason, to deliberately manipulate the results of a psychological exam, because the individuals who administer such examinations are fairly expert at detecting this and will, typically note in the exam report any attempt to influence the outcome of the test.

Here is a comment from a psychologist who conducts mental consultative exams for the social security administration (actually, the state agency that handles disability determinations for SSA, which in most states is known as DDS, or disability determination): “Saying that the people who administer the mental exams are fairly expert at detecting malingering is an understatement. I’m a psychologist that does these exams and you waste my time and yours if you do this.”

As a disability examiner, I can personally recall a situation in which an individual with diminished IQ–ironically enough–made three deliberate attempts to fool the psychologist by giving a poor effort on his testing. He was denied. The sad thing is that he would have been approved, most likely, if he had simply allowed himself to take the test without trying to manipulate the outcome. The point is pretty clear. Don’t try to cheat, i.e. manipulate the test results.

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