Credibility can be the deciding factor in your chronic pain disability claim with the Social Security Administration (SSA), so it can’t hurt to understand how they judge credibility and how to strengthen yours.
Even though the SSA will turn down your chronic pain disability claim if you don’t present medical evidence for it, it’s not the only factor. Your credibility can be just as important. If you come across as honest and believable about your allegations, then the SSA may decide to grant you benefits even if the medical evidence does not completely, objectively prove those allegations.
So how does the SSA judge my credibility?
The SSA looks at whether your statements and other evidence have been consistent over time. The administration wants to make sure that the medical impairment you claim could logically cause your pain with the severity and intensity you allege. The SSA is trying to figure out: Is your pain as bad as you say? Are you doing everything you reasonably can to treat it? Does your history show you are a hard worker, or might you just be looking for some easy money? A person’s credibility, or lack of it, shows up in many areas, so the SSA looks for it in a few different factors, including:
- Routine: Your reported, day-to-day routine should make sense in light of your alleged symptoms and other medical evidence.
- Treatment: Your efforts at pursuing medical treatment as well as the nature of that treatment should demonstrate you are doing everything you can to heal your body. Showing that you have seen not just a family doctor but a specialist, for example, can strengthen your credibility.
- Pain: How you describe your pain also matters–how long your pain lasts and re-occurs and to what degree.
- Work: Your work history ought to show you were steady and dependable prior to your impairment, demonstrating that, when able, you have chosen to work and that you are not merely looking for a free ride from the SSA.
- Statements of third parties (family members, friends, co-workers): These ought to come together to paint a clear, believable picture about your limitations they have observed first-hand.
How can I improve my credibility?
There are several things you can do before applying, while applying, or at the hearing to demonstrate that you are honest and credible.
Emphasize a strong work history.
The Social Security application asks for only the last 15 years of your work history, but if you’ve worked longer, let the SSA know! Your work history is an asset. It shows that you are not trying to take advantage of the system but are down on your luck. The SSA is a system you’ve been investing in during your lifetime; you are reasonably now seeking a return.
Get third-party reports from those without a financial stake in your claim.
Family members can be good third-party observers that might know the details of your impairment; however, if a family member has a financial stake in whether your claim is approved or not, the SSA will seem them as less-than-perfect-objective observers. Include in your application reports from observers that the SSA might view as more credible, like your co-workers or boss.
Don’t exaggerate your symptoms.
When the SSA asks you to rate your symptoms, a 10 is not usually called for, unless you are in the hospital. And a 3 or 4 indicates your pain is pretty manageable. A mid-line 7 or 8 wold indicate severe pain that you can survive without passing out from.
Indicate if you have both good days and bad days.
For some chronic pain cases, like that of fibromyalgia or depression, the pain can come and go. If you don’t explain this on your application and at your hearing, it might look like you are being inconsistent when you rate your pain as extreme but indicate that you can also do household tasks. Indicate, on average, how many days per week are basically pain-free. Explain, for example, that on these “good days,” you get a lot done (include examples), and it is during your “bad days” that you are bed-ridden with intense pain.
Remember that the arbitrary and invisible nature of pain can make your chronic pain case difficult to prove. An attorney would be a good resource to help you get the benefits you deserve. Let one of our attorneys help you by setting up a free consultation with our office today.
Photo courtesy of R. Nial Bradshaw via Creative Commons