For every Social Security Disability claim the Social Security Administration (SSA) must determine how credible or believable the claimant is regarding their limitations. The credibility analysis is a very important part in a Disability claim because; face it, if the SSA believes the claimant to be fully credible then they should almost always consider the claimant to be disabled. In making a credibility determination about a claimant’s statements the SSA is supposed to refer to Social Security Ruling 96-7p.
The provisions as reflected in this SSR as well as the Code of Federal Regulations provide that an individual’s symptoms, including pain, will be determined to diminish the individual’s capacity for basic work activities to the extent that the individual’s alleged functional limitations and restrictions due to symptoms can reasonably be accepted as consistent with the objective medical evidence and other evidence in the case record. In addition, symptoms may not be disregarded solely because they are not substantiated by objective medical evidence. The absence of objective medical evidence is only one factor that the adjudicator must consider in assessing an individual’s credibility. Moreover, SSR 97-6p provides that merely because an individual’s statements are not credible is not by itself sufficient to establish that an individual is not disabled.
SSR 96-7p also recognizes that a claimant’s persistent efforts to obtain relief from his or her pain or other symptoms serve to enhance his or her credibility. Therefore, a longitudinal medical record with consistent subjective complaints and effort to reduce pain or other symptoms should serve only to aid a claimant in his or her effort to obtain Disability Benefits.
Regarding SSR 96-7p, there are numerous factors the adjudicator must take into account. Must is important language for any analysis of statutory law. This is not something the adjudicator has a choice in doing. The adjudicator must making a finding as to the claimant’s underlying impairment and then consider whether said impairment could reasonably be expected to produce the claimant’s symptoms. The adjudicator must consider lay evidence in assessing the residual functional capacity. The adjudicator must specifically consider the side effects from the claimant’s medications. The adjudicator must not only consider the claimant’s allegations of pain, but detail specific reasons for his or her credibility finding in their decision. Failure to obtain treatment must be considered in the context of all the evidence, an adjudicator “must not draw any inferences about an individual’s symptoms and their functional effects from a failure to seek or pursue regular medical treatment” without first considering the evidence of record which may explain “infrequent or irregular medical visits or failure to seek medical treatment.”
As a practitioner, I have seen on numerous occasions where the lower levels (DDS) will find a claimant full credible then deny his or her claim even though the claimant’s statement make it obvious that, if believed, he or she should be considered disabled. In addition, language from hearing decisions will often state “statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects” of his symptoms were “not credible to the extent they are inconsistent with” the judge’s assessment of his residual functional capacity—is meaningless boilerplate seen frequently in decisions from ALJs. The 7th Circuit has repeatedly criticized this template as unhelpful and explained that it backwardly “implies that the ability to work is determined first and is then used to determine the claimant’s credibility.”
This information is very important for disability claims and unfortunately adjudicators continue to either disregard or misuse SSR 96-7p. Credibility determinations are extremely important in Social Security Disability claims and a proper application of SSR 96-7p can make the difference between winning or losing a disability claim. Having an experienced attorney who knows how to make the correct legal arguments and put forth the best claim possible as well as rebut or enforce the proper application of SSR 96-7p is extremely important for any Social Security Disability claim.