Doctors can be a Big Problem When Applying for Disability in California

Doctors are involved in the Social Security Disability claim system and SSI disability claim system (it's really all one system) in several ways.

There are doctors who are employed as medical consultants (at the various disability determination services agencies that make decisions for the social security administration) and work in conjunction with disability examiners. There are doctors who work in private practice and are not employees of the social security administration, but have contracted to conduct medical examinations for social security claimants. And, finally, there are doctors who are simply a claimant's own doctor.

All of these types of doctors have the potential to be problematic for disability claimants in California who are disabled and attempting to get their disability benefits approved while the threat of financial catastrophe looms over their heads.

The doctors who work with disability examiners tend to be fully complicit in achieving the social security administration's high rate of denials on claims. And, in truth, many of these doctors casually rate claimants as capable of performing levels of work for which they themselves are quite clueless.

My own personal opinion, developed from when I worked as a disability examiner myself, is that I would be very hesitant to let any doctor who works for social security even put a bandaid on me (some were very young and you had to really wonder why they weren't working in a practice, and some were so old that they slept all day long in their offices and signed anything that was put in front of them).

The doctors who work in private practice and do CE, or consultative exams, for social security (typically referred to as social security medical exams tend to be somewhat hostile to the claimants they examine and reveal this hostility very often through blatant rudeness. And, of course, in the case of physical examinations, it is usually the case that the examination reports they provide are seldom ever helpful to a case.

However, in considering how doctors can pose problems for Social Security Disability and SSI cases, the attitudes expressed by the third type of doctor (the doctor who may be your own personal, family doctor) can be the most problematic, and discouraging.

Why do I say this? Well, recently, I participated in a discussion on a New York Times blog and what was most fascinating to me was some of the comments left by individuals who identified themselves as physicians. Their statements clearly left the impression that they were suspicious of the motives of individuals applying for disability. And some were openly hostile.

None of which, of course, is a surprise. I've had doctors (treating physicians) tell me over the phone that they would not fill out a residual functional capacity form for a patient because they "don't do that" and I've read reports from doctors who have performed consultative medical examinations in which it was implied (based on a ten minute interaction) that the claimant was faking their condition.

Certainly, for an individual who is, or will be, in the position of filing for disability, having some "inkling" of their doctor's stance with regard to their claim would be helpful.

However, doctors are not always upfront with their own patients. I've seen instances in which doctors would intimate to their patients that they would be supportive in a disability case and, yet, tell me over the phone that they did not feel as though they could supply a statement in support of a pending disability case.

So, what does this mean for the patient who has filed or will file for disability? It may mean that it may not be a bad idea to attempt to gauge the receptivity of their physician (to a disability claim) early on in the process.

It may also mean that reviewing one's medical records early on wouldn't be a bad idea either, if for no other reason than to discern if any useful information regarding functional limitations is actually being recorded in the doctor's office notes.

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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