Can a Doctor's Letter Win a Disability Case or Get You Approved?

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Question

If I ask my doctor to write a letter saying that I am disabled and offering proof of my disability, will I be approved for Social Security disability?

Answer

To what extent can a letter from your personal doctor or physician help win a Social Security disability claim? It depends on the letter. In most Social Security disability cases, letters from physicians have little impact on the disability decision. However, this is due to the fact that in most cases, doctors submit letters that are so short and lacking in detail that their value to a disability examiner or an administrative law judge is practically nil. In other cases, doctors ignore requests for information and do not submit such statements on behalf of their patients.  

But a good detailed statement from a doctor who is knowledgeable about a claimant's medical problems can make all the difference as to whether or not a disability claimant is approved for disability benefits. This type of statement is called a "medical source statement." Particularly at the ALJ hearing level of appeal (the second level of appeal in most states), these medical source statements can help, because judges recognize the fact that they are not medical professionals. They give substantial weight to detailed opinions of medical professionals, particularly those who are directly involved in a claimant's medical treatment. In fact, judges are required to accept a treating doctor's medical source statement as true and accurate unless they have good reason to reject it (such as the doctor having no credibility or not being a specialist in your particular illness or injury). 

To help your case, your doctor's medical source statement must be:

  • detailed
  • objective, and
  • specifically assess your physical capacity or mental capacity and the physical or mental limitations that result from your medical condition and problems.

The statement must explain why the patient has certain limitations (for instance, the patient can't stoop because of arthritis), and also be backed up by medical evidence (for instance, include an X-ray or MRI showing degenerative discs). 

There is a form that accomplishes these goals, known as an RFC form. (RFC stands for residual functional capacity.) To learn more about RFC forms and to download one you can give to your doctor, see our downloadable RFC page. 

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