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Helping Patients Navigate Social Security Disability Issues

Women's Health Policy

By Molly Clarke

As a medical professional, it is likely that you've seen patients who are in need of Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits and perhaps you've felt helpless seeing an eligible patient get denied for SSD benefits. Know that there are steps you can take to help your patients improve their chances for approval.

The Social Security Disability program in the United States provides financial assistance to disabled individuals who are unable to work and earn a living. Due to increasing cases of disability fraud and abuse, the screening process for disability benefits has become increasingly stringent. While this has made it more difficult for unqualified individuals to "scam the system," it has also made it more difficult for applicants who truly need SSD benefits to get them.

What can you do to help?

Write a Statement Supporting Your Patient's Case

The first thing you can do is to write a note supporting your patient's case. The note should provide details about your patient's functional limitations and provide detailed records of your patient's symptoms over an extended time. You may be asked to fill out a residual functional capacity (RFC) form. Give details when filling out this form, explaining how and why your patient's condition interferes with his or her ability to maintain gainful work activity.

Provide Your Patient With Pertinent Medical Records

You can also help by providing your patient with a copy of all medical records pertaining to his or her medical condition. Having copies of medical documentation before applying for SSD can make the application process go more smoothly and will help prove to the Social Security Administration (SSA) that your patient is truly unable to work.

Medical documentation may include records of medical history, clinical findings, laboratory results and diagnoses, as well as treatment history—including response to treatment and prognosis of outcome.

Know That Your Opinion Carries Weight

The SSA may assign an independent doctor to evaluate your patient, but any records or documentation you provide will be given more weight when determining whether or not your patient qualifies for disability benefits.

This is because it is recognized that the treating physician and health care team have firsthand knowledge of how your patient's condition interferes with his or her ability to perform daily living activities. This puts you in a better position to provide a professional opinion.

If your patient's case goes to a disability hearing before an administrative law judge, the RFC form that you provide will be given more weight than the RFC form provided by the outside professional. Your opinion, combined with medical evidence, can make or break your patient's disability claim.

Molly Clarke writes for the Social Security Disability Help blog, where she works to promote disability awareness and assist individuals applying for disability benefits.

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