Olympia disability attorney explains how Social Security evaluates your pain and other symptoms

If you experience troubling symptoms that make working difficult, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. Symptoms, such as pain, fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness, weakness, and loss of memory can be disabling.

Nevertheless, convincing the Social Security Administration that you have them and that they are severe is difficult. Symptoms are subjective, which means they are difficult or impossible to measure with medical tests. Statements about your pain or other symptoms, from you or others, standing alone, are not enough to prove that you are disabled.

First you must establish that you suffer from a severe “medically determinable physical or mental impairment.” That requires medical evidence, typically records and test results from the doctors who are treating you. Then the Social Security Administration will consider all the symptoms you report that are consistent with your medical and other evidence.

Social Security’s two-step test for evaluating symptoms

Social Security follows a two step test for assessing symptoms.

Step one. In the first step, the disability evaluator decides whether you have a medically determinable impairment that could reasonably be expected to produce your symptoms. The answer will be yes only if your file contains objective evidence (medical signs and laboratory findings) that your impairment could cause your symptoms.

Medical signs are physical or mental abnormalities that a doctor can observe, describe, and evaluate with accepted diagnostic techniques. Laboratory findings are physical or psychological phenomena that appear in lab tests, such as electrocardiograms, X-rays, psychological tests, and the like.

Obviously, to satisfy this step, you need to be evaluated by a doctor. If possible, try to be seen and treated by an M.D. who is a specialist in your condition. If your objective medical evidence is inadequate, you may be scheduled for an examination with a doctor at Social Security’s expense. However, it’s better to have records from a treating doctor who has seen you over time. A treating doctor’s records and reports are stronger evidence than a report from a doctor who has seen you only once.

Step two. If your objective evidence shows that you have an impairment that could produce your symptoms, the disability evaluator moves on to the second step. Here the evaluator considers whether your symptoms do actually limit your capacity for work. In addition to the medical signs and laboratory findings considered at step one, the evaluator will consider the medical opinions of your doctors, your treatment history, and what you and your witnesses say about how your symptoms affect you.

The credibility of your statements is crucial in convincing Social Security that your symptoms are disabling. The decision maker must believe you are telling the truth about how intense and persistent your symptoms are.

The disability evaluator will look for these indicators that can reveal the seriousness of your pain and other symptoms:

  • Have you reported your symptoms to your health care providers and to Social Security consistently?
  • Have you seen specialists?
  • What treatments have your tried (medications, injections, surgery, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, traction, acupuncture, physical therapy, heat and cold packs)?
  • Have they been effective?
  • Do medical imaging tests (x-rays, scans) show any abnormalities?
  • Do you have any physical signs associated with your symptoms? For example, if you claim to be suffering from pain, do you also have swelling, deformity, or atrophy of the affected area?
  • Do you need to use a crutch, cane, walker, or braces or any other devices to help you cope with your symptoms?

Get advice from an Olympia disability attorney

If you have symptoms that interfere with your ability to work, you may be considering applying for Social Security disability benefits. If you are not already represented by an Olympia Social Security disability lawyer and would like an evaluation of your case, please describe your claim using the form on this page. Or email or phone us if you prefer.

Law Office of Eitan Kassel Yanich, PLLC
Olympia disability lawyers

203 Fourth Avenue E.
Suite 321
Olympia, Washington 98501