How can Social Security dispute my doctor’s opinion that I am “disabled?”

June 11, 2015

Recently, we received a call from a prospective client, Lisa, who was understandably shocked and upset that she had been denied Social Security Disability benefits. After all, she had worked for 15 years as a housekeeper at a hotel. But the combination of a work injury and uncontrolled diabetes forced her to stop working at the advice of her family doctor, despite her being the sole breadwinner for her children. How could Social Security deny Lisa’s claim when her own doctor told her she was no longer able to work? The reasons can be confusing, but they are based on Social Security’s complicated rules and regulations.

The word “disabled” can mean different things to different people and even to different parts of the government. Webster’s dictionary defines “disabled” as “incapacitated by illness or injury; also: physically or mentally impaired in a way that substantially limits activity especially in relation to employment or education.” To Lisa’s doctor, it meant that she could not perform her housekeeping job any longer, as it was too strenuous. However, to Social Security, “disabled” means that you cannot sustain any job in the national economy given your age, education, and work experience. For that reason, Social Security’s rules state that “disability” is a matter for it to decide – not for your doctor. It doesn’t matter that the CTA gave Lisa a reduced fare card, or that the City of Chicago gave her a parking placard, or even that the State of Illinois granted her public aid benefits based on disability. Social Security has its own rules and its own procedures. Social Security even has its own doctors who will review your case and come to their own conclusions.

An important disability secret is that in the end, labels such as “disabled” are not very important. It mattered little that Lisa’s doctor confirmed that she is “disabled,” because the government did not know what the doctor meant by “disabled.” For example, can Lisa sit for more than 30 minutes without pain? Is she able to sustain a normal workday without interruption from her symptoms? And more importantly, why or why not? What mattered is what her doctor believed she could still do, despite her medical problems.

Having a Chicago Social Security Disability Attorney can help get the right information from your doctor that will be useful in your particular case. We can ask your doctor the right questions so, if professionally comfortable, he or she can explain your limitations to Social Security so that the government has the best understanding of your situation.