If My Doctor Diagnosed Me with Specific Conditions, Why is Social Security Denying Me Disability?

As a Social Security disability lawyer, I speak with many people hoping to qualify for Social Security disability benefits.  Many of them are frustrated because they have waited months or years just to end up with another denial.  It can be a very discouraging process.

In speaking to potential clients, their discouragement is often fueled by confusion.  I often hear that they do not understand why they have been denied benefits when their doctor has diagnosed them with a particular condition.

“How can Social Security deny my claim?  My doctor said I have fibromyalgia.  It is in her notes.”

“I don’t understand what is taking so long.  I have degenerative disc disease.  I had an MRI that shows it and the doctor said it will never get better.”

“I see the doctor at least 2 or 3 times per month because of headaches and migraines.  My doctor says that I have chronic headaches and there isn’t anything he can do to treat it.”

I hear comments like these often.  I can understand the confusion.  In many instances, these conditions are significant and lower the quality of our lives.  Unfortunately, we need more than a diagnosis to qualify for Social Security disability.

A diagnosis is only identifying what is causing your symptoms.  It does not, however, show the severity of your symptoms and how much you are limited by your conditions.   Within each diagnosis are varying degrees of severity.  For example, all of us, as we get older develop degenerative disc disease. Many of us, however, move on in life showing very little or no symptoms.  Just because we have degeneration in our spine does not mean we are disabled.

If your doctor’s diagnosis is not enough to qualify you, then what do you need to do to qualify for Social Security disability?  First, I must point out that a diagnosis is important.  It will not necessarily win the day but it is important to validate your symptoms.

Second, do all you can to obtain objective evidence of your disabling conditions.  Tests like MRIs, X-Rays, CT Scans, and clinical exams prove the existence of your problems.  In many instances, doctors can determine the severity of your conditions through these tests.

Third, discuss your limitations with your doctor.  If she can list restrictions in your medical chart, it will help the Social Security evaluator understand how your conditions impact your ability to work.

Finally, remember that in most cases, you have to rule out all full time employment not just the type of work you have performed in the past.  Therefore, your doctor must confirm that you will not be able to perform simple, light duty tasks 8 hours per day, 5 days per week.