The severity and disabling effect of certain mental conditions may be misunderstood. For example, anxiety, panic disorders, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorders can be just as debilitating as physical impairments.
Fortunately, the criteria employed by Social Security disability examiners recognizes that a diagnosis often does not provide the full context of an individual’s impairment. The bottom line is how a condition affects an individual’s ability to work.
It wasn’t always that way, however. In 1984, federal amendments to the SSDI program and its regulations changed the review process for mental impairments. Specifically, the new laws revised the medical listings for mental impairments, shifting some of focus away from medical factors and distributing more of the analytical inquiry to functional capacities. The amendments also provided an applicant the first opportunity to supply evidence from his or her health care provider, before submitting to a consultative examination.
After the 1984 amendments, more applicants with mental conditions were able to obtain SSDI benefits. Between 1985 and 1986, SSDI payments on the basis of a mental impairment grew to 30 percent of all SSDI awards, up from 18 percent. According to the SSA’s 2012 report profiling the types of disabilities claimed by the over 10 million SSDI recipients, over one-third cite a mental disorder.
However, readers should not interpret those numbers as evidence that the process of qualifying for SSDI payments is easy. To the contrary, over half of all SSDI applications are denied, even after appeals. Although many factors can be used to demonstrate the severity of a mental impairment, an attorney might have strategies to suggest for presenting the most compelling claim.
Source: CNS News, “35.5% of Disability Beneficiaries Have ‘Mental Disorder’; 43.2% in D.C.,” Ali Meyer, Jan. 28, 2014