How Social Security Disability Insurance Handles Debilitating Pain Cases
People suffering from subjective symptoms, including chronic and debilitating pain, must navigate a particularly rigorous process in order to be granted Social Security disability benefits. Unlike some other medical conditions, pain is often invisible and can be challenging to describe to the Social Security Administration in a manner compelling enough to be granted benefits. If you suffer from chronic pain, it can help to understand the system the SSA uses to determine who qualifies for disability benefits, and how you can increase the chances of your case being accepted.
Social Security will first determine whether or not your pain results from what they refer to as medically determinable impairment, which is a condition that can be evidenced using medical and laboratory tests. If tests like X-rays, MRIs or certain physical exams don’t show that your pain is clearly due to an accepted medical condition, you won’t be eligible for benefits.
If the SSA finds that you have a medically determinable impairment, their next step is to decide if the level of pain that you experience matches the type and level of pain typically associated with your condition. If your pain exceeds that which is common for the condition you suffer from, the SSA will then consider your credibility.
Credibility is determined by looking at a number of factors:
- Your work history
- The consistency and nature of treatments and therapies you’ve undergone for your pain
- The opinions of physicians who have treated you
- Consistency between your reported frequency and level of pain and your reported daily activities
- Statements by friends, family and co-workers regarding your limitations
How to Increase Your Credibility
If the SSA notices a discrepancy when evaluating your credibility, your claim will be less likely to be approved. Although the judge presiding over your claim has to give specific reasons for a denial of benefits, making it easier to formulate an appeal, it’s better to avoid being denied in the first place. Fortunately, there are a few tactics that you can use to increase your credibili
- Make it very clear if your pain is intermittent. If your pain comes and goes, but social security doesn’t know that, they might not understand why you are able to perform daily tasks despite debilitating pain. Repeatedly let the SSA know if you experience severe pain on some days and less pain on other days.
- Describe your pain realistically. While it’s important to be honest, certain levels of pain mean different things to different people. If asked to rate your pain on a 1 to 10 scale, a rating of 4 or 5 might not seem severe enough to the judge, while a rating of 9 or 10 might make the judge wonder how you are able to function in the courtroom at all. Giving a number of 7 or 8 adequately describes intense pain without sounding outrageous.
- Get consistent medical treatment. This proves to the judge that your condition is serious enough that you are willing to seek an appropriate level of medical treatment. Seek out a specialist if possible to lend your treatment schedule more credibility.
- Show your strong work history. If your work history has been intermittent or unreliable, the judge may think that you are seeking disability benefits as a source of income rather than as a response to a bona-fide medical limitation. If you have a strong work history, make sure to emphasize it.
- Seek opinions from your doctors. A positive opinion from your physician, especially a specialist, lends additional credence to your credibility. Make sure your physician describes the specific limitations he or she has observed, and shows that they match your description of your symptoms.
No matter how credible you may seem, getting Social Security disability benefits for subjective symptoms is still very difficult. Seeking representation from a disability lawyer can further increase your chances of success. If you are suffering from chronic pain, consider giving a disability lawyer a call to discuss your options.