When applying for Social Security benefits, it is necessary to show the physical and mental health conditions from which you suffer and how these cause your inability to work. A recent, unpublished decision from the Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, Kent vs. Acting Commissioner of the Soc. Sec. Admin. (No. 15-15059), provides insight into what is required for an award of SSI benefits. In this case, the SSI applicant suffered from severe impairments of major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, obesity, and migraines. She appealed the denial of her application when the administrative law judge (ALJ) chose to give little credit to the testimony of her treating psychiatrist about the extent of her mental limitations.
When weighing medical opinions, an ALJ is required by case law to give a treating physician’s opinion “substantial or considerable weight,” unless she or he can articulate good cause for not doing so. This occurs when the treating doctor’s testimony is not supported by evidence, the evidence actually points to an opposite finding, or the the opinion of the treating physician was conclusory or inconsistent with the doctor’s own medical records. The appellate court felt that the ALJ in the earlier proceeding demonstrated good cause and was supported by substantial evidence in the record.
The treating psychiatrist performed a mental residual functional capacity assessment and labeled the applicant as having marked restrictions in her ability to perform work-related tasks, from performing simple instructions to getting along with co-workers to responding to changes in the workplace. The doctor then opined that she had “extreme” restrictions in several areas, including her ability to understand and remember detailed instructions, sustain an ordinary routine without special supervision, and complete a normal workday and workweek, performing at a consistent pace. The ALJ, however, noted that the psychiatrist’s assessment didn’t line up with the testimony as a whole, in which there were findings of the applicant having a “consistently fair ability in memory, concentration, and attention,” “no more than moderate symptoms,” and “no symptoms to only mild symptoms.”