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

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

A letter from your personal doctor or physician won't help win a Social Security disability claim if it just states that your doctor thinks you are disabled. In many Social Security disability cases, letters from physicians like these have little impact on the disability decision because they are so short and lacking in detail that their value to a disability examiner or an administrative law judge is practically nil.

But a good detailed statement from a doctor who is knowledgeable about a claimant's medical problems can help you get approved for benefits. This type of statement is called a "medical source statement." It should specifically assess your physical capacity or mental capacity and the physical or mental limitations that result from your medical condition and problems. To really help your case, your doctor's medical source statement must include:

  • references to objective medical evidence
  • the doctor's opinion on what your limitations are (ability to stand, walk, lift weight, etc.), not on whether you are disabled, and
  • an explanation of how the evidence support the doctor's opinion on your limitations.

In other words, your doctor's statement must explain why you have certain limitations (for instance, you can't stoop because of arthritis) and also be backed up by medical evidence (for instance, include an X-ray or MRI showing severe degenerative discs).

There is a form that accomplishes these goals, known as an RFC form, that your doctor can use. (RFC stands for residual functional capacity.) Read more in our article about how a RFC form helps your case, and download one you can give to your doctor at our downloadable RFC page.

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 often give substantial weight to detailed opinions of medical professionals, particularly those who are directly involved in a claimant's medical treatment and are specialists in their field.

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