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?
Not necessarily. A letter from your doctor isn't a magic ticket to winning your disability case, especially if it's just a short sentence stating that you're disabled. But if your doctor provides a detailed description of what your limitations are, with reference to specific evidence in your medical record that supports their opinion, you can increase your chances of getting benefits.
In order to determine whether you're disabled, the Social Security Administration (SSA) looks at your medical records for evidence of limitations you have, physical or mental, that affect your ability to work. While the SSA gets advice from medical consultants who can help make sense of the technical language used in your records, the claims examiners reviewing your file often have to make an educated guess about your health restrictions.
Having a letter from your doctor that explains medical terms and translates them into limitations that examiners can understand helps avoid incorrect guesses. The SSA values the opinions of doctors who have been treating you consistently in the area of their specialty.
Generally, your disability file will contain multiple medical opinions about your residual functional capacity (RFC). Your RFC is a set of restrictions that reflects the most you're capable of doing, physically and mentally, in a work setting. Social Security uses your RFC to determine what kinds of jobs, if any, you can perform.
Opinions about your RFC can come from several sources, such as Disability Determination Services, a consultative examination, or a medical expert. But these sources often disagree as to the extent of your limitations—likely because they don't see the whole picture of your medical history.
So when a doctor who's been treating you for a long time and who can provide special insight into your condition has an opinion about your limitations, the SSA is more likely to give the opinion "greater weight"—meaning that they'll agree with your doctor instead of other sources. If your regular doctor thinks you have more restrictions than doctors who've only seen you once, Social Security will take that into consideration when determining your RFC.
When considering which doctors to ask for a disability letter, choose health care providers (including counselors and therapists) who you're confident will support your application for benefits. You don't want to put yourself in the position of having to explain to an administrative law judge why your treating physician thinks you can lift 50 pounds or perform complex tasks.
A quick conversation with your doctors should help you determine whether they will write a supportive note. If your doctor seems less than enthusiastic about writing a letter or indicates that they're opposed to disability benefits in general, seek a different opinion.
If your doctor agrees to write a medical source statement (Social Security's official term for a doctor's note), make sure that the statement includes details about the physical or mental limitations that result from your medical condition. Good medical source statements include:
Avoid having your doctor simply write a note stating that you're disabled. Social Security considers the ultimate determination of disability to be an "issue reserved to the Commissioner" (the head of the SSA), because the decision involves additional legal factors that aren't your doctor's area of expertise.
Most disability attorneys are overjoyed when a client's doctor provides a comprehensive medical source statement. Here's an example of what such a doctor's note might contain:
Because completing a medical source statement takes time out of doctors' busy schedules, you can provide your doctors with an RFC form that easily consolidates important information. You can read more in our article about how an RFC form helps your case, and download one you can give to your doctor at our downloadable RFC page.
Updated November 28, 2022
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