All disability claims require medical evidence to prove that a medical impairment prevents a claimant from working. For claims based on mental health impairments such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and anxiety, medical records may often refer to a Global Assessment of Functioning, or GAF. The GAF scale ranges from 100 (superior functioning) to 0 (severely impaired), with scores of 50 or less typically indicating serious impairment in social, occupational, or school functioning. For example, the patient is unable to keep friends or hold onto a job.
The scoring system first appeared in 1980 in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) III, a manual for mental health professionals offering a standardized method of diagnosing mental health disorders. In 2013, the GAF scale was superseded in the DSM-V by the World Health Organization Disability Assessment Schedule 2 because of perceived lack of reliability and poor clinical utility. Notwithstanding, the GAF scale remained a popular tool with mental health providers for over thirty years, and many clinicians still utilize it today as a convenient method of measuring the severity of mental health disorders.
In assessing the severity of mental health impairments, disability adjudicators at Social Security Administration focus on social functioning; activities of daily living; concentration, persistence, and pace; and episodes of decompensation. While GAF scores can vary from month to month or even from day to day, consistently low GAF scores over a prolonged period often indicates the claimant would be unable to hold down a job during that time. While disability adjudicators do not rely solely on GAF scores in their disability assessment, they will consider it as part of the entire record to determine eligibility for benefits. GAF scores can still greatly contribute to a disability assessment with Social Security Administration.