Share the blog post
Supreme Court of the United States in Washington, D.C.

It bears repeating that in order to establish that you are disabled under the Social Security Act, you must have a “medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s)” that has lasted, or can be expected to last, at least a year. This means that your description of your impairments alone is not sufficient to establish that you are disabled under the law. You must have a “medically determinable” impairment.  

Symptoms – why are they so important, but not enough to prove disability?

Social Security is required to consider all of your symptoms, such as pain, and the extent to which these symptoms can “reasonably be accepted as consistent with the objective medical and other evidence” in the record. Social Security defines symptoms as your own description or statement of your physical or mental impairment. As mentioned above, however, your symptoms alone are not enough to establish the existence of a physical or mental impairment or disability.

Do the Two-Step

Social Security uses a two-step process to evaluate your symptoms. First, they have to consider whether there is an underlying medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) that could reasonably be expected to produce your symptoms. Second, once such an underlying physical or mental impairment(s) is established, Social Security evaluates the intensity and persistence of those symptoms. They use that to determine the extent to which the symptoms limit your ability to perform work-related activities.

The objective medical evidence is found in your medical treatment records. This is signs and laboratory findings. A sign might be your mood or affect when mental illness is at issue. Examples of classic laboratory finding are x-ray and MRI reports, or blood tests. This medical evidence has to establish that you have physical or mental impairments. This is why it is so important to be in treatment on a consistent, ongoing basis with your various medical providers, including specialists for your particular illnesses.  It seems that the Social Security Administration wants to see that despite your best efforts to get better, you still are unable to work full-time. Often, this is not easy to prove.

Medical treatment: Some hope for symptoms

Symptoms cannot always be measured objectively through clinical or laboratory diagnostic techniques. However, objective medical evidence generated through medical treatment is useful to help make reasonable conclusions about the intensity and persistence of symptoms. This includes the effects those symptoms may have on the ability to perform work-related activities. Social Security must consider whether your symptoms are consistent with the medical signs and laboratory findings of record.

Social Security will not completely disregard your statements as to how your symptoms affect your ability to function just because the objective medical evidence doesn’t totally substantiate them. Instead, inconsistencies between your symptoms and the objective medical evidence is just one of the many factors that Social Security must consider in evaluating the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of your symptoms.

Get the help you need!

As you can see, there are complicated legal rules and issues involved in a Social Security disability claim. This is why it is so important to consult a lawyer if you have questions about your claim, or starting a new application. It is better to start off with an attorney than wait until you’ve been denied to hire one. And remember, attorneys normally represent clients on a contingency fee basis in these types of claims. This means that they are not paid unless you win your case and there are past due benefits payable to you. Please let us know if you have any questions about this important area of law or if you have been injured in an accident.