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Obtaining disability benefits for mental illness

Many people in Ohio think of a disability in terms of an illness or injury that interferes with a person’s physical ability to work. Fortunately, the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) takes a much broader view of the concept of “disability/” Persons suffering from mental illness can obtain social security disability benefits for mental conditions if they can meet the SSA’s requirements.

As with any disabling condition, a disability for a mental condition must be supported by “documentation of a medically determinable impairment.” The impairment, whatever its cause, must prevent the applicant from engaging in substantial gainful employment permanently or for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. The central difficulty with proving the existence of a disability based upon mental illness is that the symptoms are largely subjective, that is, medical science has no objective test, such as a blood sample, X-ray or magnetic resonance image, to verify the existence of the illness. Some mental illnesses also have a physical manifestation, such as difficulty walking or speaking, but the underlying illness is nonetheless subjective.

In evaluating an application for disability benefits based upon a mental disorder, the SSA relies on the opinion of a qualified medical professional such as a psychiatrist or psychologist to identify the disorder and its effect on the person’s ability to work. The SSA may also appoint a medical professional to conduct an independent examination of the applicant. As with all disability applications, the SSA will also review the applicant’s work record and, if provided, testimony from friends and family members concerning the effect of the mental disorder.

Like all disability benefit applications, the success of an application for benefits based upon a mental illness depends upon the quality of the medical and employment evidence submitted to the SSA. Anyone thinking of making an application (or assisting a loved one in doing so) for disability benefits based upon a mental disorder may wish to consult an attorney who specializes in handling disability claims. A knowledgeable lawyer can provide an evaluation of the claim and assist the applicant in assembling the necessary evidence to support it.

Source: Social Security Administration, “Disability Evaluation Under Social Security, 12.00 Mental Disorders – Adult,” accessed on June 4, 2016

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