Extremely important! I often find myself repeating to my clients one of two phrases: “God helps those who help themselves” SSA feels the same way. You cannot refuse to try and get better and expect the government to pay you. The second phrase I catch myself repeating is, “If you could just say it hurts and SSA takes your word for it, everyone would be getting disability. You have to prove yourself through medical evidence.”
- SSA does not give PA’s, Chiropractors, or non-specialists as much weight as someone with an MD or DO behind their name. If you have a specific problem, you need to see a doctor who specializes in that area. Seeing your family doctor for depression does not make it appear severe for SSA purposes.
- SSA will not require you to have surgery or a dangerous procedure in order to prove you are disabled, but you do need to comply with your doctor’s orders. If your doctor says you need to quit smoking due to your COPD or quit drinking due to your liver failure, you’d better give it your best effort. SSA will pay benefits even if you caused the damage to yourself which now has rendered you disabled, but they will not pay you if you are continuing to engage in the harmful activity.
SSA divides doctors into three categories when considering how much weight to give their opinions.
- reviewing doctors – these are doctors who work for social security and their sole purpose is to read medical records and make opinions as to whether or not you are disabled under their rules. These doctors never examine you and are supposed to be given the least amount of weight. The problem arises when you don’t have treating doctors of your own and these are the only medically trained eyes looking at your case, then you are at their mercy.
- Consulting doctors – SSA often sends people applying for disability to an “independent” doctor at their expense. The purpose of these is to get information where there is none, or to get a second opinion. The quality of these doctors varies greatly, as does their actual objectivity. Some are going to be fair and thorough, and others barely look you over and just collect the referral fee from SSA.
- Most disability attorneys will not refer clients out to a consulting doctor because they are not given as much weight as treating doctors are. However, this has recently been looked at by District Courts, who stated that a consulting doctor paid for by someone other than SSA is entitled to as much weight as the SSA doctors are.
- Treating doctors – these are the people you see routinely and hopefully, over a long period of time. Their opinions are supposed to be given the most weight because they are (hopefully) experts in their field and are more familiar with your conditions than either of the other two categories of medical experts.
So you can change doctors if you are not happy with yours, but once you find one you like, stick with them. Visit them as often as you can. Make sure they note everything you say and perform as many tests to prove what you are claiming as you can afford. A good treating doctor who gives an opinion about his/her patient’s conditions is often the most helpful piece of evidence you can provide in establishing your disability claim.