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A 2016 policy interpretation ruling by the Social Security Administration has eliminated the term “credibility” from the sub-regulatory policy and altered the methods used to evaluate the subjective symptoms associated with disabilities under Title II and XVI disability claims. The ruling requires, via a 2-step sequential review process, establishing that there is an underlying medically determinable impairment that can reasonably be expected to produce the person’s symptoms, and evaluating the persistence and intensity of the subjective symptoms and how they impact the claimant’s ability to work.

Ultimately, ruling SSR 16-3p means that the objective medical evidence is carefully evaluated to determine whether an impairment can reasonably be expected to produce the stated subjective symptoms in a disability claim. This ruling could make it more difficult for people with subjective symptoms to win disability benefits.

Understanding Subjective Symptoms and Disabilities

Subjective symptoms can be experienced but not visually inspected. These symptoms can include chronic pain and fatigue, cognitive impairments, or mental health disturbances. Since the severity of subjective symptoms cannot be proven with medical tests, individuals have a higher burden of proof to establish their existence and the impact the disability has on their ability to perform a substantial gainful activity. Before the ruling, judges typically evaluated a claimant’s credibility to determine whether the individual’s own description of the impairments was accurate.

Qualifying for SSDI with Subjective Symptoms

Individuals with subjective symptoms must submit a Residual Functional Capacity Assessment (RFC) to SSA. This information includes medical records, statements from the applicant’s physician attesting to the presence of the condition and its impact on the ability to work. This assessment can also include statements from the individual, friends, coworkers, employers, and others that attest to the limitations the condition places on the applicant’s ability to consistently perform work.

The SSA reviews the information and assesses the persistence, intensity, and limiting effects of the injury on the individual’s physical, mental, and sensory capabilities as they relate to the ability to perform a substantial gainful activity. It is vital for individuals to prepare documentation to reflect the updated guidelines. This includes putting the evidence together so that it establishes a clear link between an underlying medical condition, the condition’s symptoms, and the impact these have on the individual’s quality of life and ability to maintain gainful employment.