What We Want Your Doctor to Know About Supporting Your Application

Often, clients tell us that their doctors support their applications for disability benefits.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t always translate to statements from those providers that lead to approval.  So, what is the Social Security Administration looking for in letters from doctors? Social Security Benefits Application Form

  1. A diagnosis. This may seem obvious.  However, sometimes, you might have a “working” diagnosis while your doctors continue to get information about your condition.  At the end of that analysis, your final diagnosis could be different. The Administration wants to know what your final diagnosis is and what, if anything, caused it to be different from the working diagnosis.
  2. An explanation of any limitations in your treatment. Do you live in an area where there are not many medical providers? Do your conditions (or the treatment of them) complicate each other?  Does treatment for one condition make a different condition worse?  Do any of your medications cause your other medications to be less effective?  Are there any cognitive limitations or mental health limitations that make it hard for you to adhere well to your recommended treatment?
  3. A description of any tasks you cannot do. If you have a vision impairment, can you read regular print? If you have a hearing loss, can you hear on the telephone?
  4. A description of any tasks that you must not or should not do. Do you have permanent lifting restrictions? Have you been instructed not to drive? 
  5. A description of any tasks that you must do. Do you need to elevate your legs? If so, how high, how often, and for how long? Do you need to take safety precautions?  If so, what are they, and why must you take them? Do you need to use an assistive device?  If so, what device and why? Is it to prevent falls, help with pain, transition from sitting to standing, transition from standing to sitting, or assist in ambulation? 
  6. An assessment of the activities that you can perform despite your conditions.  Social Security calls this your residual functional capacity.  You might not be able to lift 50 pounds anymore, but can you lift 20 pounds? Can you lift 10 pounds?  You might not be able to stand and walk for 6 hours a day, but can you stand and walk for 4 hours? Can you stand and walk for 2 hours?  Similarly, Social Security wants to know how often you can perform activities such as reaching, using your hands for gross or fine manipulation, climbing stairs, stooping, and kneeling.  Other examples of non-exertional impairments are outlined by the SSA office and should be discussed with your health care provider.
  7. An explanation of the basis for these opinions.  What did your doctor consider in reaching the conclusions identified in the opinions?  Is this opinion based on imaging studies? Is it based on reports from other providers?  Is it based on consistent complaints over time? 

Social Security’s policies mean that a letter that says something like “my patient is disabled” without additional explanation will be disregarded. A letter with all this information does not guarantee approval in your case, but a letter with this information will be much more helpful.  In addition, it will provide an obvious statement of your abilities and limitations.

James R. Keller
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Partner at Keller & Keller
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