Social Security disability examiners are obligated to address any allegations or indications of mental health problems contained within your disability file (your application and related forms and your medical records). If there isn't sufficient information about your mental state in your medical record, Social Security will send you to an independent doctor for a mental consultative exam.
Why Are Social Security Exams Required?
Consultative exams are usually ordered because there is no recent medical information in a patient's file. Both Social Security disability (SSD) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs require that recent medical information for the applicant be on file before a disability decision can be rendered.
Quite often, disability applicants will list ongoing mental symptoms such as depression, anxiety, memory loss, or insomnia on their application, but either have not received medical treatment for their mental condition within the past 60 days or have never received any medical treatment for their mental condition. Either way, without a recent medical evaluation to tell Social Security about your current mental state, disability examiners cannot close your case (deny you benefits), so they will schedule you for a psychological consultative exam to get some up-to-date information about your mental condition.
Social Security may require you to attend a mental exam even if you have recently seen your psychiatrist or psychologist. It just depends on a particular case -- that is, what information your disability examiner believes should be obtained. Some disability examiners (or their unit supervisors) just prefer to have the input of a consulting doctor before making a decision.
If you did not allege a mental impairment, Social Security may have obtained information from another source that you may have a mental impairment of some kind. Social Security may also have found the mention of depression or some other mental impairment in your medical records. Sometimes, this information is contained in questionnaires they send to you and your third party contact (the person you named on your disability application).
Lastly, if you apply for disability for a physical medical condition, such as joint problems, but the doctor can't find physical evidence to support your claim, you may be sent for mental testing.
What Happens at the Mental Exam?
Consultative examinations are a one-time visit with a psychologist or psychiatrist, paid by Social Security to perform an examination that contains the fundamentals of a standard mental evaluation. Generally, claims examiners use one of three mental evaluations to address potential mental health issues. If you have alleged learning disabilities, the inability to read or write, a decline in mental functioning due to stroke, organic brain disorders, or accident, or you suffer from mental retardation, you may be sent to a psychological consultative examination that may involve intelligence quotient (IQ) testing and/or memory testing.
If you have alleged that you have a personality or mood disorder such as bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, most likely you will be sent to a psychiatric evaluation.
If there is an indication that you may have a situational problem with depression, anxiety, or panic attacks, you may just be sent to a mental status examination. This examination is to evaluate your current mental condition.
After a Mental Exam
The physician or psychologist who performs a mental examination for disability is required to send a written report to your state Disability Determination Services (DDS) agency (where Social Security disability decisions are made) within 10 days, so that the disability examiner has a medical opinion of your current state of health on file before making a decision.
The report will contain an opinion about your ability to remember and understand instructions, your ability to deal with supervisors and coworkers, and your ability to deal with the stresses of work, and more.
Unlike CEs for physical conditions, mental CEs are more than mere formalities, as disability examiners tend to strongly consider evidence gained from a mental consultative examination when deciding a claim for disability.
Learn about the qualifications for disability for various mental conditions.