Claimants who file for Social Security Disability benefits in South Carolina have physical impairments, mental impairments, or a combination of both. The claimant will testify at a hearing about the symptoms related to their medical impairment(s). The claimant’s testimony will be heard by an Administrative Law Judge or “ALJ.” The ALJ will compare the claimant’s testimony to the claimant’s medical records when determining whether the claimant provided credible testimony about their impairment(s).
A claimant’s testimony to the ALJ about their medical impairment(s) can be referred to as “subjective evidence.” A claimant’s documented medical signs and tests are typically referred to as “objective evidence.” Subjective evidence (claimant testimony) that is supported by objective evidence (medically documented facts found in medical records) will generally be found credible and given greater weight by an ALJ.
For example, let us consider a hypothetical claimant – we will call him John – seeking benefits because of severe left hip pain. John is 50 years old and has been working as a grocery store clerk for 20 years. His left hip pain impacts his ability to stand and walk during his 8-hour shifts.
John’s medical records will be submitted to the ALJ before his disability hearing. At the disability hearing he will testify and describe symptoms of pain, swelling, and limited range of motion associated with his left hip. The ALJ will compare John’s statements about his left hip pain to his medical records. Typically, if John’s medical records support his testimony then the ALJ will more likely believe John’s testimony about his left hip pain. However, if the ALJ finds no medical support for John’s left hip pain then the ALJ may assume his left hip pain is not as severe as he claims.
But what exactly is the ALJ looking for in John’s medical records? The answer is, it depends. The ALJ may look for a variety of factors in the medical evidence to determine whether John provided credible testimony about his left hip pain. Evidence an ALJ may consider includes, but is not limited to, the following:
1. Whether John sought medical treatment for his left hip on a regular and consistent basis?
2. Did John receive medical treatment from a doctor who specializes in the treatment of hip problems (an orthopedic doctor)?
3. Did John’s doctor prescribe medication for his left hip pain?
4. Did John’s doctor prescribe a cane or walker?
5. Did John’s doctor prescribe a handicap parking decal?
6. Did John’s doctor note in his medical chart, after each examination, that his hip was swollen, tender, had a limited range of motion, or exhibited crepitus or grinding sounds?
7. Are there x-ray scans, CT scans, or MRI scans that indicate significant arthritis, a bone fracture, or a serious soft tissue injury?
8. Does John’s doctor believe John needs some type hip surgery?
Testimony for a medical problem that has not been medically treated will not likely be considered credible. Therefore, we strongly encourage our clients to try and obtain medical care, if possible, and document their subjective pain complaints with objective medical evidence. Remember, the medical impairment(s) currently preventing you from working full-time could improve or even be resolved with medical treatment. Medical treatment could allow you to return to work and help you avoid having to apply for disability benefits. However, if medical treatment does not improve medical impairment(s) then you now have the necessary objective medical evidence to prove your disability to an ALJ.
Our law firm specializes in helping disabled individuals in the Florence, SC area get the social security disability benefits they deserve. Our staff understands how important you are to us, and we promise to work extremely hard for you. It is our sincere belief that our professional services make a positive difference in the lives of our clients. We value your trust and welcome the opportunity to serve you.