The importance of medical treatment in a social security disability claim
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Without a doubt, the most important part of any Social Security claim, is the medical evidence. Social Security needs to see evidence that supports your claims. Without supporting medical documentation, your chances of getting disability benefits are slim.
With this in mind, there are some things that a claimant can do to supplement their record in order to put forth the strongest possible claim.
- Treat as often as possible – This is especially true if you have health insurance or Medicaid. The more often your doctor sees you, the more documentation there is to support your claim. The length of time and frequency in which a doctor treats you is a factor that Social Security uses in assigning weight to the evidence in your file. Even if you have a condition which cannot likely be remedied with treatment, it is still a good idea to periodically get examined by a physician. For example, a claimant with severe back problems that has been told there is nothing other than surgery that can be done, would still benefit from an updated check-up from a physician. Even if the physician can offer no new treatment, the claimant has added updated medical evidence to their file which details the same or similar complaints that their previous records showed. This is especially important if you have not received any medical treatment in a long time.
- Be open and honest with your doctor – This sounds obvious, but many claimants don’t do it. This is especially true with mental health symptoms. Many claimants leave out depression, anxiety, and other mental health ailments when discussing their health problems with their physicians. Even if a condition is not your primary reason for seeking disability, it can still add to your chances of receiving disability and is therefore important. It is important to know that your physicians often note much more in their records than what you verbally tell them. For example, your physician will often note your appearance, your ability to walk (gait), your ability to get on/off the exam table, your mood, and many other observations from your visit. Additionally, physicians will generally note any complaints that you make while at your visit. Knowing this, it is a good idea to let your physicians know of all medical problems you are having, rather than just the one(s) they are seeing you for. For example, if you are seeing an orthopedic specialist and you suffer from severe depression, you should include your mental health ailments in your list of complaints to that doctor, even though they don’t treat it. The doctor will still note the complaints, even if they don’t treat it, and this helps to create consistency in your record and can add value to a claim. The flip-side of this is that you never want to make up or exaggerate symptoms or ailments. Doctors are generally very good at noticing when this is happening, and the worst thing that you can have in your records is a physician questioning your credibility.
- Determine if your doctor supports your disability – This is a tricky area. Many doctors are supportive of their patient’s claims for disability. However, there are some doctors who dislike the concept of disability benefits and who will go out of their way to hurt a claim. In most cases, you can quickly tell your doctor’s views on the subject. An innocent question, such as “I was thinking of applying for disability benefits, do you think I have a good case?” can provide a lot of insight into whether your doctor will be helpful with your claim. Some doctors will tell you that they think you have a good claim and that they will be happy to help you in any way they can. That type of doctor is invaluable to a claim. Our firm often provides specifically tailored questionnaires for these doctors to complete regarding your impairment. Other doctors will tell you that they think you have a decent claim but that they don’t do anything with disability claims. These types of doctors generally don’t help or hurt your claim. Finally, there are doctors who will either tell you that they don’t think you are disabled or that they flat-out don’t believe in Social Security Disability. These doctors can be very dangerous to a claim and will need to be handled carefully. In some case, it is in the claimant’s best interest to seek a new doctor.
Whether you have yet to apply or are at the hearing level, you always need to be aware of the weight that your medical records have on your claim. At Bridgman Law Offices, we frequently work with our clients to help them get the most out of their medical records. If you would like to learn more about how to strengthen your claim, please contact us.