High Standards For Social Security Disability Benefits

As a case involving a police officer working for Virginia Tech University illustrates, there are very high standards before an award of Social Security disability benefits will be made. Lavern Beaver filed an application for Social Security disability in 2003, alleging that she became disabled in 2001 due to dizziness, lethargy, fibromyalgia, headaches, numbness and swelling in the right arm, leg, and foot, neck pain, loss of strength in the right arm, difficulty speaking, memory loss, and nausea.

Physical examinations showed that Beaver suffered from myofascial pain syndrome, cervical and lumbar degenerative disk disease, right shoulder bursitis, and a somatoform disorder. Other medical diagnoses of Beaver included an irritable bowel syndrome, granulocytopenia, fatigue, and temporomandibular joint syndrome. One of the physicians who performed an independent medical examination on Beaver gave the opinion that she was “completely disabled from work at this time and unfortunately will likely remain permanently disabled in the future.”

In spite of this evidence, the Social Security Administration rejected Beaver’s application for disability benefits. A federal court upheld the dismissal of Beaver’s claim. The standard applied by the Court was whether Beaver was able to show that she was unable “to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for at least 12 continuous months.”

The Court cited the fact that “two neurological exams, a motor skills examination, a CT scan, several MRIs of the brain and spine, a lumbar puncture, nerve conduction studies, EMG studies, and over a dozen general medical examinations all yielded little to no objective, physiological evidence that supports a finding of total disability. The Social Security Administration is required to analyze every medical opinion received and determine the weight to give to such an opinion in making a disability determination.”

Beaver argued that the independent doctor’s assessment of the fact that she was “totally disabled” should have been accepted. The Court disagreed, finding that it was appropriate to “afford the doctor’s opinion little weight as the issue of disability is one for the Social Security Administration to make. The Administration properly considered the medical opinion but rejected the conclusion on the issue of disability finding it to be inconsistent with the bulk of the objective medical evidence in the record.”

Beaver v. Astrue, 2007 WL 3146526 (W.D. Va. 2007).

This article appears in the December 2007 issue