Getting Denied Disability Because Social Security Didn't Consider All of Your Medical Conditions

(Page 2 of 2 of When Social Security's Mistakes Get Your Disability Application Denied)

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Here are some more mistakes that Social Security may have made when deciding your claim, and what to do about them. (To learn about other mistakes, read page one of this article, on potential Social Security mistakes about your job history.)

The SSA Failed to Consider Your Mental Illness

It is not uncommon for people with physical disabilities to also suffer from mental illnesses, such as anxiety and depression. It is also not uncommon for the SSA to fail to consider claimants' mental conditions when their primary issue is a physical disability. However, mental illness imposes myriad limitations that can severely impact a person’s ability to work; for example, reliability, interpersonal skills, and the ability to focus and concentrate are frequently affected by mental health conditions. The combined effect of these types of mental limitations and those caused by physical impairments can often preclude work.

If the SSA fails to consider your mental illness when it makes its decision, be sure to explain this in your appeal. You must also make sure that you have included any mental health records and the names and contact information of the psychiatrists and psychologists who treat you. If you have hire a disability lawyer, he or she will make sure all this is done for you.

This situation can be addressed at the hearing level, where you and your attorney have the full attention of the ALJ. At your hearing, your attorney will state that one of the bases for your appeal is that the SSA failed to consider your mental health issues. Your attorney will then ask you a series of questions to show the ALJ how your mental illness affects you. Here are some examples of questions your attorney may ask:

  • Is a doctor or therapist currently treating you for your mental illness?
  • How often do you see your doctor or therapist?
  • Does your mental illness prevent you from doing things you used to enjoy? Can you give examples?
  • Are you able to focus and concentrate? For example, do you now have trouble reading books, watching TV, or doing your bills?
  • Do you take medication for your mental illness?
  • Does your medication cause any side effects? If so, what are those side effects?

Your attorney will also work with your doctor to prepare a mental residual functional capacity (MRFC) assessment that will detail all of the mental limitations you experience because of your mental illness. An MRFC is pivotal in winning claims for disability where mental illness is involved, even if the mental illness is secondary to a physical impairment.

For a full discussion of how to make the SSA recognize the limitations of your mental illness, see our article on how anxiety and depression help a claim for a physical disability.

The SSA Ignored Your Other Disabilities

The SSA must consider the impact of both “severe” and “not-severe” impairments when deciding if you are disabled. A severe disability is one that significantly limits your ability to do at least one work work-related activity, such as:

  • walking, sitting, standing, pushing, pulling, lifting, and carrying
  • hearing, speaking, and seeing
  • understanding and following simple directions, and
  • interacting with co-workers and supervisors, and adjusting to changes in the workplace.

A not severe impairment is one that has no more than a minimal impact on a person’s ability to do work-related activities.

The SSA Ignored a Severe Disability

If the SSA decides you have a severe impairment, the agency has to prepare a residual functional capacity assessment (RFC). An RFC is a detailed report that discusses how your medical condition impacts your ability to do the physical parts of a job.

The SSA is required to consider all of your impairments when determining your RFC; if the RFC neglects to include an impairment that you listed on your application, you must state this in your appeal. If you are at the hearing level and are represented, your attorney will argue to the ALJ that the SSA failed to consider the combined impact of your impairments, and argue that their combined effect prevent you from working.

Sometimes the SSA doesn’t consider an impairment because the claimant hasn’t provided any medical documentation about the condition. If this is your case, make sure you submit as much medical evidence about your severe impairment as possible, as soon as you realize the error.

You should also ask the doctors that treat you for your condition to prepare an RFC assessment for you that includes information on the limitations caused by all of your impairments. An RFC from your doctor is key to winning your case. If you are represented, your attorney will make sure that your doctors complete the forms properly and get them submitted to the SSA.

For more detail, see our article on combining multiple disabilities to show you can't work.

The SSA Ignored Your Not-Severe Disabilities

If the SSA concluded that none of your impairments are severe, you will be denied disability benefits. But if you have numerous medical problems, they may make it impossible for you to work when their affects are combined. The SSA is actually required to look at your non-severe limitations collectively to see how they impact your ability to work (the agency will prepare an RFC to do this). Even if one impairment isn't severe on its own, when several not-severe impairments are considered together, their impact can become severe.

If the SSA has failed to consider the combined effect of your non-severe impairments, you will have to advise them of this when you appeal. You must also provide objective medical evidence that shows that your medical conditions together significantly impact your ability to work. Make sure that you have included all relevant medical information, including the names and contact information for your treating doctors.

It is also extremely important to complete the Activities of Daily Living form (ADL) that was given to you when you first applied. This form is often overlooked or not fully completed. Your ADL form is an important way to tell the SSA how even your non-severe impairments affect your ability to work and your day-to-day life. If you haven’t taken the time to complete the ADL carefully, make sure you do so and file it with your appeal.

For more detail, see our article on making the SSA consider how your non-severe impairments are disabling.

How to Find a Good Attorney

Nolo offers a unique directory of disability lawyers that provides a comprehensive profile for each attorney with information that will help you select the right attorney. Nolo has confirmed that every listed attorney has a valid license and is in good standing with their bar association. You can schedule a free consultation with a disability lawyer by entering the details of your disability claim into a short form. You will then select several local disability lawyers to contact you.

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