Chemical dependency (CD) can destroy your Social Security Disability benefits claim. As an attorney who argues these kinds of claims every week, I’ll explain how this happens. I’ll also explain how to make Social Security take your benefits claim seriously.
From my legal perspective, chemical dependency usually takes one of three forms: Addiction to alcohol, illegal drugs, or prescribed medications. Most often, I see chemical dependency issues in my clients with depression and anxiety. It is not always clear which one came first. My instinct tells me that, in most cases, the mental illness comes first. Unfortunately, social security does not always care. In the 1990’s, social security changed the law about how to evaluate chemical dependency. Before this change, chemical dependency was its own disability. After this change, chemical dependency became a basis for denial. In social security’s view, chemical dependency exaggerates symptoms of mental illness and other impairments. Social Security also attributes chemical dependency with reducing the effectiveness of medication. This can be true. But the actual cause and effect is usually unclear. Experts in this field have confirmed this with me. Regardless of this truth, people struggling with chemical dependency these days face an uphill battle in their social security claims.
Why Help Yourself?
What can you do about chemical dependency? The most important thing is to get professional help now if you (or people you know) think you may have a chemical dependency problem. Addictions of any kind can have a devastating effect on your health. They can also unwittingly impact those who care about you. Candor with your doctors and chemical dependency treatment by professionals is often the best way my clients get themselves out of this hole. The present law, however imprecise and unscientific at times, can blame your disability on your chemical dependency and deny your claim. Social Security denies legitimate claims by blaming chemical dependency. I witness it first-hand all the time.
From my legal perspective, my clients who have gone to get professional help for their chemical dependency have strengthened their Social Security claims. I can usually make stronger arguments in their favor on three basic levels. First, clients who treat for chemical dependency are more credible. I can argue that they have tried to help themselves. Clients who recognize they may have an addiction and try to overcome it are more likely to get the decisionmaker’s ear. The rationale is this: It is easier for decisionmakers (or anyone, for that matter) to sympathize with people who are trying to get out of their holes rather than blaming society for them. Second, clients who treat for chemical dependency generally have better medical records. With treatment for chemical dependency, I can argue how medical records parse out chemical dependency from the underlying medical problems. Third, clients who treat for chemical dependency also have stronger claims because they create a stronger platform for their underlying medical problems. If I have clients who have overcome chemical dependency, I can argue that their medical problems have not changed in the 3 to 6 month window after they have quit. If erasing chemical dependency does not change the severity of other impairments, it is undeniably logical that chemical dependency was not “material” to their disability. But if being clean and sober does make them better, they might be able to work. In my book, this is the best case scenario. When possible, working is a better alternative than benefits. I wish all my clients got better.
What if I am Still Actively Addicted?
There are still some legal arguments if my clients are struggling with active chemical dependency. In these situations, I look for how their treating providers view the chemical dependency. Medical records generally rank order diagnoses, starting with the most significant. Sometimes chemical dependency is not the first, or primary, diagnosis. In these circumstances, there is an argument that chemical dependency is a secondary condition and therefore is not to blame for how bad the primary condition is. Note, however, that this argument can be difficult. Other arguments in this situation are similarly difficult. For example, there is an argument that substanced-induced mental illnesses have diagnosis codes custom-tailored for “material” (a legal term) chemical dependacy. A health professional who does not choose these codes arguably has not found chemical dependency material.
Chemical dependency is a very difficult problem. Not feeling well does not make it any easier to face. Getting help is a first step to getting out of this deepening hole. If you have a social security benefits claim, it is important that Social Security focuses on the truth of your underlying medical problems. Removing the fog of chemical dependency can not only help you, but it can also help your claim for benefits.
If you do not have an attorney helping you with your claim, it is important to get legal advice specific to your situation. If you want legal advice from one of our lawyers at Hoglund Law Offices, you can reach our offices at 1-800-850-7867. There is no fee unless you are approved. If you are approved, our only fees are 25% of your backpayment of benefits.
Andrew Kinney, Esq.