There are many ways in which an experienced Social Security disability lawyer can assist a person seeking disability benefits, but sometimes the lawyer can't do it alone. Sometimes the claimant also has to help his or her self by doing simple things like showing up for consultative examinations. The District Court for the Northern District of New York's recent ruling in Irizarry v. Astrue provides an example of the consequences of failing to do so.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied Plaintiff Mary J. Irizarry's claim for Social Security disability benefits, which she filed in 2006, asserting that she's unable to work due to depression. This decision was at least in part due to the fact that Plaintiff failed to attend consultative examinations (CEs) scheduled by the SSA for the purpose of determining the extent of her impairment.
A CE is simply a physical or mental health examination conducted by a professional; either the claimant's own physician or psychologist or another source. The examiner is generally selected based on appointment availability, distance from a claimant's home and ability to perform specific examinations and tests. Following the CE, the examining doctor must submit a report to the SSA that is sufficiently complete to enable an independent reviewer to determine the nature, severity and duration of the claimant's impairment as well as the claimant's ability to perform basic work-related functions.
Plaintiff did, however, appear at an administrative hearing in 2009, following which an SSA Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found that Plaintiff is not disabled because her "depression resulted in minimal, if any limitation in her ability to perform work-related activities," including those related to her previous job as a housekeeper.
On appeal, the Northern District affirmed the ALJ's decision, ruling that "if a claimant, without good cause, fails or refuses to attend and participate in a consultative examination, the ALJ may render a finding of not disabled." In this case, Plaintiff failed to appear at consultative examinations scheduled for February and March 2007, despite being warned that this could cause her claim to be denied.
Furthermore, the medical evidence available to the ALJ indicated that Plaintiff's depression did not substantially limit her in any way, according to the court. Specifically, Plaintiff testified at the hearing that her depression only "sometimes" interferes with her ability to relate to people, but is controllable when she takes her medication, a statement supported by both a 2007 psychological assessment and hospital records. Thus, the court found that the ALJ's decision that Plaintiff is not disabled for benefits purposes was supported by substantial evidence.
As experienced Social Security disability lawyers, we understand that the doctors who perform CEs typically have not previously examined the claimant and, therefore, are not necessarily in the best position to make a complete opinion about the claimant's ability to work. However, this is not a reason to blow off the examination. Rather, a disability attorney can point out a CE's inherent problems in arguing a client's case and seek to avoid a CE all together by making sure that the client's medical records are clear and complete.