To prove your disability claim before Social Security Administration (SSA), you must provide evidence of a medically determinable severe impairment. The term “medically determinable” implies that a licensed physician or certified psychologist has given a diagnosis based on objective laboratory testing or clinical findings, though special consideration is given to infants and small children, whose medical conditions and functional limitations might be difficult to diagnose or ascertain due to their young age. SSA now also accepts diagnoses from APRNs, physician assistants, and audiologists, though not every diagnosis or assessment from a medical provider will count toward your disability claim with SSA.
For example, gender dysphoria, though recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), is typically not considered a severe impairment by SSA as it imposes no functional limitation on the ability to work by itself, though the depression which commonly accompanies the diagnosis may impose certain limitations. Similarly, drug or alcohol dependence is not a diagnosis recognized as payable under the Social Security Act, though other accompanying impairments may be disabling if substance abuse is not found to be material.
Perhaps the most common medical problem for claimant’s applying for disability is pain. While pain is listed in the International Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-10), SSA considers pain to be a symptom of an impairment rather than a medically determinable impairment. A medically determinable impairment may not be established solely on the basis of symptoms alone. SSA will, however, evaluate the limiting effects of pain if there is an underlying medically determinable impairment that could reasonably be expected to produce such symptoms. Conversely, obesity is considered a medically determinable impairment alone or in combination with coexisting or related conditions.
SSA’s provisions remind adjudicators that the combined effects of severe and non-severe impairments can have a synergistic effect. Therefore, when evaluating the functional limitations of medically determinable impairments, it is important to consider the combined effects of each diagnosis.