I’m in the process of applying for disability. My POTS and my depression have gotten so bad…I just can’t work anymore. The SSA asked me to go to a consultative exam, so I did.
The doctor didn’t ask any questions about my symptoms, and he didn’t seem to have the medical records I submitted with my application. Everything he did check on felt unrelated to my POTS or my depression. The appointment was so quick, I didn’t feel like I had time to explain what’s been going on with my health.
Is all this a good or a bad sign? How do I know if the exam went well? I don’t really understand why I had to see a new doctor in the first place, and I don’t think the disability doctor learned anything about my actual condition. What happens next?
In The Dark
Dear In The Dark,
If the SSA is requiring you to have a consultative exam, they’re trying to determine your level of functionality and whether or not you have a disability (according to their definition). These exams can be nerve-wracking! But they’re a normal part of the disability application process — and they won’t make or break your case.
This exam is most common earlier in the application process, but can happen anytime. Getting a consultative exam isn’t necessarily a good sign or a bad sign. It simply means the SSA needs more information about your case. Most likely, it will take some time after the exam before you receive the official verdict about your disability application.
Why did I have to get a consultative exam?
You might need a consultative exam if your existing medical records aren’t comprehensive enough to show your level of functionality. In that case, the SSA may not have enough information to make a decision about your case. So they’ll send you to one of their doctors for a consultative exam.
The type of doctor you see will depend on the condition(s) you have. Keep in mind, however, that your consultative exam is not medical care. If your existing file does not contain clear evidence of your condition or of the care you’ve already received, the consultative exam will not replace that.
Is a consultative exam a bad sign for my disability claim?
Not necessarily. Think of your consultative exam as something that’s neutral. In fact, the SSA states that the report from your exam “should not include an opinion as to whether the claimant is disabled under the meaning of the law.” It’s simply a way for the SSA to learn more information about your condition so they can make a decision on your case.
Consultative exams are generally quick. They might not seem very thorough. And your exam could feel awkward, too. These are all normal, so don’t panic. They aren’t signs the exam was bad.
Are there any signs that your consultative exam went well? Since the purpose of the exam is to provide more information to the SSA, anything you can do to help accomplish that goal is a good thing. If the point of the exam was to do a certain test, like bloodwork, and you didn’t get that test done — then you should follow up with your own doctor.
It sounds like the SSA doctor didn’t ask you many questions about how you were doing. This may feel dismissive, but is likely okay. A common mistake disability applicants make is going to their consultative exam on a good day, and then telling the doctor they feel alright. It’s important to be honest with the SSA about how you’re doing, but you should keep conversations focused on how poorly you feel overall.
All in all, the clearest way to tell if the consultative exam went well is to read the examiner’s report. It could take months for the doctor to send their report to the SSA. But if you’d like to see the results sooner, you can request to see the report — either for yourself, your doctor, or your lawyer.
Can I request a second consultative exam?
No, you won’t be able to do a second consultative exam. However, you can go to your personal doctor around the same time and get an exam from them. This will give you more evidence to use in your disability claim — and the more evidence you have, the better. Since the SSA sends you to their doctors for most consultative exams, it’s helpful to make sure you have plenty of records from your own doctor, too.
What happens after the consultative exam?
After your consultative exam, the doctor will submit their report. Then the SSA makes their decision on your claim.
Keep in mind that even once your consultative exam is finished, it can still take a long time for the final decision to come through. On average, it takes people between 2 and 2.5 years to start receiving disability benefits after submitting their application.
If you’re still waiting, don’t get discouraged. The SSA will eventually make a decision about your case.
Do you need a lawyer for the consultative exam?
You can’t take a lawyer with you to a consultative exam. If you’re getting this exam, however, this may be a sign that you need help strengthening your medical evidence — and a lawyer can help with that.
An experienced disability lawyer can offer insight on what you need to make your case better. They’ll also be able to illustrate your true medical condition during the hearing (if it’s necessary), and to help with every other aspect of the application process.
Here at Atticus, we have a deep network of thoroughly vetted lawyers who can walk you through the disability process. If you’re interested in learning more about how a lawyer could help you, take our short quiz. It’ll help us give you more personalized advice, and match you to the right lawyer for your case.
Best of luck,
The disability benefit process is complicated. We make it easy.
Sydney Hershenhorn is an attorney on Atticus’s Client Experience team. She‘s a licensed attorney, a graduate of New York Law School, and has counseled hundreds of people seeking disability benefits. In her free time, she enjoys cooking and spending time in nature.
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