Wednesday, February 06, 2008



Social Security Disability and Physicians

Attorney Charles Hall commented earlier this year on the fact that many treating physicians (i.e. your family doctor or a doctor that you regularly see) have some fairly strange ideas when it comes to the social security disability and SSI programs (here's his original post: absurd misconceptions about disability).

He's absolutely right, of course. What's always flumoxed me (hopefully, that's a real word) with regard to physicians, however, are the following:

1. Doctors, for the most part, know little to nothing regarding federal disability programs.

2. Doctors, to a degree that is depressing, very often seem unwilling to help their patients.

Let's tackle the first one. Should doctors really know anything about title II (social security disability) and title 16 (SSI disability) benefits? After all, they don't work for SSA.

Well, perhaps, to some small degree, they should. Here's my reasoning. Most doctors who have been in practice for any decent span of years will have had a number of patients who have filed for disability. Without a doubt, many of those patients, or their disability lawyers, will have requested statements in support of their disability claims. And not just one paragraph statements, but, rather, statements that ask for some indication of the patient's current functionality and limitations, caused as a result of their physical or mental impairments.

Logically, one would think that, over time, a physician who has had to repeatedly deal with such matters would begin to understand that the disability programs operated by the social security administration have everything to do with functionality, i.e. what a person can still do and what a person can no longer do. Sadly, for some strange reason, that realization never seems to "set in" for most doctors. And, as a consequence, too many doctors never become very helpful to their patients in this regard.

Regarding the second item, the unwillingless of many physicians to assist their patients, I've seen this many times and have, on more occasions than I can remember, spoken to a disability claimant's physician who stated, in no uncertain terms, that he simply did not complete disability forms for his patients because he did not have time.

Of course, anyone who goes to a doctor even sporadically knows full well that most phsyicians have a busy schedule, generally seeing a large number of patients each and every day. Without a doubt, physicians are busy individuals and their schedules are further compacted by the demands of their practice that do not necessarily involve the delivery of medical care.

Still, is this a valid reason for refusing to complete a supporting statement on behalf of a patient who is struggling to win a disability case at a hearing? Chances are that the same patient is also struggling to avoid bankruptcy and keep his or her home out of foreclosure.

Viewed in that light, the short amount of time it takes a doctor to review a patient's records and then complete a short statement that focuses on the patient's residual functional capacity (i.e. what they are still capable of doing, despite their illness)...would not seem such a burdensome request.

In fact, many disability attorneys will even provide a physician with an uncomplicated (and quick to complete) check-off form. On this form, the physician simply checks off a number of items that will, quite easily, render a full capacity assessment with regard to a claimant's limitations and employability outlook.




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