As part of the application process for disability benefits, you may be asked to complete a consultative exam (CE). CEs are common and involve seeing a doctor contracted by the Disability Determination Services (DDS) — which essentially handles medical evaluations on behalf of the Social Security Administration (SSA). These disability doctors will usually perform either a physical or psychological exam, and there are certain things you should avoid saying to the doctor to avoid hurting your application.
What to expect from the disability doctor
At your consultative exam, the doctor will most likely do a quick exam that probably takes 15 minutes or less. They may also perform specific tests, like an X-ray, at the request of DDS. But the disability doctors generally don’t dig too deep. For your CE, expect a cursory once-over.
But while the exam is quick and painless, the doctor is still there to help determine whether or not you meet the SSA criteria for disability benefits. They’re paying close attention to what you say, and saying the wrong thing could hurt your case. With that in mind, let’s look at what not to say when you’re meeting with a disability doctor.
There’s no gold star for toughness here. In fact, downplaying your symptoms and implying that your condition isn’t very severe will probably lead the SSA to assume you don’t really need disability insurance.
Before your appointment, spend some time thinking about what you experience on your worst days. You should answer all doctor questions based on those days. Even if you’ve taken a grin-and-bear-it approach with friends and family, now is the time to let the façade down. It’s important that the disability doctor understand exactly how you’re feeling.
2. “It’s getting better.”
For a lot of people, symptoms aren’t as severe every day. So you might walk into your CE feeling better than usual. But be careful that you don’t imply that you’re improving.
You need the SSA to know that you’re unable to work, even if certain days aren’t as bad as others. Your claim is more likely to get denied if the disability doctor comes away thinking you’re on the mend and your condition won’t last much longer.
3. Over-exaggerations of your symptoms
Since the whole point of your consultative exam is to prove that you really can’t work, you may feel tempted to make things sound really bad. But don’t lie and don’t fudge the details of your condition.
If the doctor thinks you’re over-exaggerating your symptoms, their final report to the SSA may say that they didn’t feel you were telling the truth about your situation. Such a report would hurt your claim and likely get your application denied.
As an example, if the doctor asks you to rate your pain on a scale from 1 to 10, don’t immediately jump to 10. Telling them that your pain is a 10 every day will sound false, even if you do experience serious pain on most days.
4. Anything contrary to what you’ve said before
One reason that the DDS requests a consultative exam is that it found inconsistencies in your application. So before you head to the disability doctor, spend a minute reviewing what you’ve submitted up to this point. Flip through both the main application form and your function report to see how you’ve answered questions before. Make sure that you don’t share anything at the appointment that contradicts what you’ve said before.
5. Anything antagonistic
Having to go in for a CE can feel like a drag. It’s one more hoop you have to jump through just to get the benefits you deserve — especially if you’re not particularly fond of doctors.
Keep all personal opinions and frustrations with the Social Security disability process to yourself. You want your doctor to write a final report that works in your favor. If they like you — or, at the very least, don’t feel antagonized by you — they’re more likely to write a favorable opinion on your condition.
Here are a few things that slip out on a surprisingly common basis:
“I don’t trust doctors.”
“I’ve heard consultative exams are a waste of time.”
“I’m going to talk with a lawyer to make sure you don’t mess this up.”
Long story short, be nice and keep any unfavorable personal opinions to yourself. If there was ever a time to play nice, this is it.
6. Anything personal
You’re not here to make a new best friend and sharing anecdotes from your daily life can be risky.
Let’s say you end up talking with your doctor about a recent trip to a new grocery store with your friends. It may seem harmless but the doctor could construe that story as you saying that you can handle daily tasks without difficulty. So even if you feel like you want to build rapport with the disability doctor, keep the personal details to a minimum.
7. Anything indicating you aren’t following your doctor’s orders
The SSA is more likely to approve your disability claim if you follow a treatment plan but still struggle with the symptoms or side effects of your medical condition.
If the doctor at your CE thinks that you’re not taking your treatment plan seriously, they may raise a red flag. In fact, you might have been called in for the CE because the DDS isn’t clear on whether you're truly following your doctor’s treatment plan.
Even if you don’t necessarily agree with the treatment your doctor has prescribed, this isn’t the time to look for a second opinion. Your goal in the CE is to show the disability doctor that you have two things: a clear diagnosis and a treatment plan that you’ve been acting on.
Getting help with your disability application
The disability application process is lengthy and complicated, whether or not you have to go in for a consultative exam. Fortunately, help is available.
Our team at Atticus offers free legal advice to help you with your disability application. We can also help you find the right lawyer if you need or want one (you may: people with lawyers are three times more likely to win benefits). We can also help whether you’re just starting the process or your application was denied and you need to appeal.
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