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Consultative Examinations for Mental Impairments

Posted July 11, 2024 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

If you’re applying for disability due to a mental health disorder, Social Security may ask you to attend a consultative examination (CE) with a psychologist or psychiatrist to better understand your condition. CEs are a very common step in the disability determination process, and are typically scheduled after you first submit your application for benefits (or after you’ve appealed a denial).

Social Security can schedule you for a mental CE even if your application only lists physical conditions. Because your mental health can affect the types of tasks you’re able to do or how you interact with others, the agency needs to know if you have any cognitive or emotional limitations that would keep you from performing certain jobs. Therefore, when you go to a mental CE, it’s important to be forthcoming about any symptoms of depression, anxiety, or related disorders you’re experiencing. 

Your mental CE should take roughly one hour. The psychologist or psychiatrist conducting the exam will likely start by asking you about your medical history and any mental health issues you’re experiencing. The doctor will also ask about any therapy, counseling, or medications you’ve taken in the past, and whether these treatments worked for you. Finally, the doctor will ask about the ways in which your mental health interferes with your daily routines, such as grocery shopping, paying bills, and cleaning the house. 

Depending on your specific condition, the doctor is also likely to administer a mental status examination. Mental status exams involve several simple questions designed to evaluate your memory, mood, and reasoning abilities. The doctor may ask you to count backwards from 100 by threes, recall basic objects after five minutes, or interpret a set of pictures. 

The mental status examination will be included in the psychiatrist or psychologist’s report to Social Security, along with their observations about your behavior. It’s common for the doctor to describe your appearance, speech, and “affect” (how your emotions appear to others). For example, somebody with few to no symptoms of a mental impairment may be described as well-groomed, speaking at a normal volume and rate, with a “broad affect” (healthy range of emotional responses). But somebody with severe depression may be described as disheveled in appearance, speaking very slowly and softly, with a “flat affect” (limited emotional responsiveness). 

It’s normal to be nervous during the CE, especially if you haven’t had any formal mental health evaluations before. You might be worried about messing up or saying the wrong thing, but the CE isn’t a pass or fail event. Answering the questions honestly and with specific details is the best way to approach a mental CE. 

Consultative Examinations for Physical Impairments

Posted July 11, 2024 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

Many people who apply for Social Security disability benefits will be asked to attend a consultative examination (CE) early on in the disability determination process. Physical consultative examinations are a way for Social Security to get a better idea of your health and what strength-related limitations you have that affect your ability to work.

Social Security may send you to a CE if they don’t have enough information from your medical records to determine if you’re disabled. This can happen if your records are old, incomplete, or unclear. A CE can help fill in the gaps by having a doctor perform a physical examination and send a report about their findings back to Social Security.

If Social Security decides that you need a CE, they’ll schedule an appointment with a doctor who is contracted by the agency to perform examinations. You’ll receive a letter that tells you when and where to go for your CE. If you don’t think you’ll be able to attend the appointment, let Social Security know, and they’ll reschedule it for you. Don’t just not show up—that can be very damaging to your disability claim. 

During the exam, the doctor will ask you about your medical history and current symptoms. Be honest and give complete information. The doctor will likely also do a physical exam and may run tests or take an X-ray, depending on your specific condition. For example, if you have back pain, the doctor might check your range of motion (how far you can bend and twist). If you have carpal tunnel syndrome, the doctor may have you perform exercises that measure your grip strength. 

After the exam, the doctor will write a report about what they found. This report is sent to Disability Determination Services (DDS), a state agency that helps Social Security decide if you qualify for benefits, and added to your file. 

Even though CE doctors are hired by the Social Security Administration, they’re supposed to conduct fair and independent evaluations and are asked to state that they’re not influenced by the agency. Of course, the doctors are human, and biases can unwillingly affect their conclusions. So while CEs can be helpful if you haven’t seen a doctor in a while, a one-time examination is no substitute for care by a regular doctor who knows you well and is familiar with your medical history. If the cost of medical care is prohibitively expensive, check for free or low cost options in your community to establish an ongoing relationship with a doctor near you. 

Social Security Announces Changes to their Overpayment Process

Posted March 29, 2024 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

An overpayment occurs when the Social Security Administration (SSA) pays an individual more benefits than what they are eligible to receive.  These overpayments most commonly occur when SSA incorrectly calculates the benefits owed to a claimant.  They can also occur if SSA obtains new information that results in either a reduction in what should have been paid, or renders a claimant ineligible for a period for which they already received benefits. 

These overpayments cause a substantial hardship on claimants who are relying on their benefit payments just to get by.  By law, SSA is required to collect these overpayments back from a claimant.  Unfortunately, in many cases, claimants do not realize they have been paid incorrectly and spend the benefits immediately to avoid foreclosure, pay off credit cards, or pay medical bills.  Once SSA realizes they have overpaid an individual, they will start collecting that money back.  If the claimant cannot pay the full amount immediately, SSA can take a claimant’s entire monthly benefit.  This results in disabled Americans facing the same financial hardship that led to them filing for benefits in the first place. 

We are excited to hear that SSA has now changed their overpayment policies to be much more favorable to claimants.  Instead of withholding a claimant’s entire benefit amount to recover an overpayment, SSA is now defaulting to recovering no more than 10% of a claimant’s monthly benefit.  Their agency is also extending the period they will approve payment plans by an additional two years (from 36 to 60 months).  Finally, claimants who request overpayment waivers no longer have to prove they are not at fault for the overpayment.  That burden is now on the agency. 

There is nothing more frustrating for our firm than to see a disabled person who desperately needs financial support have their benefits taken merely because a calculation error occurred.  The changes to SSA’s overpayment collection process are a welcome change that we are excited to see going forward. 

By: Devon Brady of Premier Disability Services, LLC