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Proving a Psychological Condition to Receive Social Security Disability Benefits

One of the hardest sorts of disability claims to win is a claim based on the allegation of a psychological impairment, e.g., Bi-Polar Disorder, Depression, Anxiety, or Schizophrenia. Two primary reasons for this are 1) it can’t be seen on a lab test, and 2) Disability Judges don’t see enough of these cases to always handle them properly.

In the first instance, if a client tells SSA she has back pain, then an MRI of her spine will reveal how much damage there is, making her complaints of pain believable to a Judge. If however, a client tells SSA he is depressed, no MRI can measure the severity of his depression. Thus, the client often has to tell SSA “trust me.” SSA judges are bound by law and their own nature to trust nothing without proof.

In the second instance, people alleging debilitating mental illness with no serious physical problems are rare. Back pain cases encompass up to 60-70% of hearings for disability benefits and, while still on the rise, the number of people alleging disability due to only a mental impairment represents a much smaller percentage of cases.

So, If Your Mental Condition Prohibits Your Ability to Work, How Can You Win Your Claim?

Well, there is one thing you can do if you’re filing for Disability due to a mental impairment. You must be in treatment. Social Security judges cannot make a favorable decision based only on the client’s claims. Those claims must be substantiated by a doctor or medical professional. Further, getting a prescription for Prozac from the family doctor is not treatment. I think, in some cases, the Judge is taking the same medication just prescribed by the Judge’s doctor! No, treatment means therapy at a mental health center or with a psychologist. It is the only way to document a severe mental impairment.

Secondly, often with the client’s help, we try to obtain a source statement. In most case, therapy notes say the person is the same or even slightly better, but we do not know what the “same” means and “slightly better” than what. The therapist knows; the doctor knows. Having a professional explain the extent of disability due to psychological factors is key to winning one of these cases.

I use as my example a recent case. The gentlemen was a veteran and was treated exclusively at his local VA Hospital. In an earlier hearing, the ALJ was able to claim those VA records did not show a disabling impairment. When I first looked at the case, I knew we needed a source statement; however, VA medical records departments do not generally forward these requests to their staff. Using our knowledge of the system we arranged for the forms to find his physicians. The doctors completed the forms and at his second hearing, he won easily. There was no change in the evidence and he continued to see the same doctors he saw before. But, now the Judge knew how bad things were.

An Experienced Disability Attorney Is Your Greatest Asset

There is no magical way to win these types of disability cases: the statements have to be consistent with the records, and must be made by a professional who has a treating relationship with the client. Nonetheless, without the statements in this case, my client probably loses again. SSA judges are just not that good at evaluating psychological impairments.

If you’re in treatment and want an accomplished attorney and dedicated staff to help you, give Keller & Keller a call today at 1-800-253-5537. We’re not afraid of these claims and would be glad to help you.

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