Depression seems to rear its head in the majority of the claims I handle in front of the Social Security Administration (SSA). While some of my clients suffer from depression alone others may suffer from depression due to their physical disabilities. I am sure I am not alone when it comes to a large portion of my clients suffering from depression, in fact I am sure the Administrative Law Judges who preside over the hearings I attend routinely examine medical records with a diagnosis of depression. With this being a common thread I experience, just how do you win your disability claim when trying to receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?
In my experience you need to take a long hard look at who you are getting psychological treatment from. If you are receiving treatment from a general practitioner you may want to rethink your medical options. The SSA usually wants you to be seeing someone who specializes in the disability you claim you have. In other words, a psychiatrist, psychologist, or a mental health therapist may be your best option when trying to prove you have symptoms of depression that are preventing you from working. A well documented course of ongoing therapy with detailed progress notes can go a long way in convincing a Judge you are disabled. Hospitalizations for mental illness can also show you are not getting better in spite of treatment and following prescribed medications. Sometimes I will sit in a hearing and listen to my client testify and think they are certainly clinically depressed by their testimony, but realize at the same time that their medical records are minimal and they have not been seeing a doctor that the SSA is going to recognize. The truth is you can be disabled and the SSA can get it wrong, that is why you need to help them by getting the correct treatment by qualified physicians.
The SSA acknowledges depression as a disabling condition in its listing of impairments under listing 12.04. Listing 12.04 outlines the symptoms you must experience in order to be disabled along with other pertinent information. In my experience with some Judges it can be as simple as equaling or meeting this listing with good comprehensive medical records, while other Judges will require the use of a medical expert at the hearing to agree or disagree with the documents in your claim file. These experts can be cross examined by you, an attorney, or representative. I have found that counting on the SSA to find you disabled without some type of proactive effort on your part can be a big mistake. You must remember if the SSA was going to find you disabled easily, your claim probably would not have been disapproved at earlier levels. A statement from your treating psychiatrist and/or therapist as to your diagnosis, symptoms, and limitations may be helpful in obtaining a favorable outcome. I usually attempt to get treating physicians to complete medical source statements indicating the severity of my clients physical and/or mental condition to help sway the decision to a favorable outcome.
With all the above being said you may still feel in the dark about the process. I understand this process can be confusing and frustrating. Laws and regulations are usually not written in a way an average person can understand, and those with less schooling may find it almost impossible to understand. The pay structure for hiring an attorney to help you with your claim can offset the challenges those without an income can face. I am paid on a contingency fee bases, which simply put means you do not pay me anything unless you receive benefits. I believe this levels the playing field as you do not have to enter the courtroom alone if an attorney agrees to handle your claim.