Establishing credibility is one of the most crucial parts of a disability case. The severity and limitations of some disabling conditions are clearly demonstrated by medical tests like MRIs, x-rays and other information found in medical records, which makes establishing credibility much simpler. Sometimes, however, the effects of many disabling conditions are more subjective making the symptoms more difficult for social security disability examiners and administrative law judges (ALJs) to evaluate. Therefore, many disability applicants must rely on their own explanations and descriptions of the symptoms they experience to prove the severity of their limitations.

In 2015, the Social Security Disability Insurance program was providing benefits to approximately 10.8 million individuals in the United States. Of those, approximately 9 million were disabled workers, an estimated 140,000 were spouses, and over 1.7 million were children. That same year, SSDI received 2,412,267 applications for benefits. Only 775,739 cases were approved. While some cases are still going through an appeals process, many were denied due to credibility. Applicants who reported suffering severe impairments caused by pain, depression and other mental health issues that are difficult to measure objectively accounted for a significant portion of those who were denied.

A disability attorney in Chicago typically sees numerous cases where applicants are denied SSDI benefits due to failure to effectively establish credibility. When medical records are unable to clearly demonstrate the intensity of the impairment, an ALJ often relies on his or her own perception of the individual’s claims. If a claimant shows inconsistencies with his or her statements about the symptoms suffered, there is no medical explanation for the severity of the impairment, or the individual participates in activities that contradict claims of disability, the ALJ will most likely deny the application.

In the past, many applicants with subjective symptoms have even been denied SSDI benefits based on a judges opinion of their character. Fortunately, in March of 2016 the Social Security Administration (SSA) made a new ruling that will change the way subjective symptoms are evaluated. The term “credibility” has now been eliminated from the sub-regulatory policy. Social Security examiners and administrative law judges will now be required to determine whether an individual has a medical or mental health condition that could reasonably be expected to produce the symptoms described when evaluating subjective symptoms. As stated in the new ruling, “subjective symptom evaluation is not an examination of an individual’s character.”