Once I file a person's request for hearing, Social Security gives me access to that person's entire file. One of the most interesting documents is called the Disability Determination Explanation (DDE.) The DDE is a summary of the process Disability Determination Services (DDS) went through before denying a person's claim.
Everyone Is Partially Credible
One section of the DDE asks the disability examiner (DE) to rate the claimants credibility. I have looked at hundreds and hundreds of DDE's. I have never once seen one where the claimant was consider more that "partially credible." No matter what medical problems the claimant has and no matter how well her physicians have documented those medical conditions, the claimant is never any better than partially credible. I wonder in idle moments what it would take for someone to be fully credible.
A New Ruling On Assessing Credibility
This might be of only passing interest except for the fact that Administrative Law Judges also must evaluate an claimant's credibility. At this level, at least, Social Security is trying to make this part of the process uniform. A new Social Security Ruling, SSR 16-3p, tells judges they have to focus on a claimant's symptoms to determine if the claimant is presenting a true picture of his condition. 16-3p is designed to eliminate a bad habit too many ALJ's have developed over the years. This bad habit found ALJ's simply dismissing a claimant's credibility summarily. Often, ALJ's would do this by flippantly stating that the claimant's medical condition was not "fully supported" by the medical evidence. Conversely, an ALJ might find that the claimant was "not as disabled as he claimed" due to the claimants ability to do things like cook or shop (or even eat, in one egregious case.)
Will ALJ's Comply?
If the ALJ's follow the dictates of 16-3p (we'll see), we should see much better decisions. No longer can an ALJ simply write off a claimant's subjective symptoms by what amounts to "I don't believe this lady." An ALJ is going to have to work a whole lot harder to write off a claimant as not credible. That ALJ might conclude it's easier to just evaluate the evidence.
One interesting aspect of 16-3p is that Social Security now forbids ALJ's to dismiss a claimant's overall character based on extraneous evidence such as appearance, education, living arrangements, and the like. An ALJ's assessment of credibility has to be based on specific evidence in the file and nowhere else.
I fear that ALJ's will quickly find new language to use in decisions that technically comports with 16-3p while evading it's requirements. Human nature being what is it, if the ALJ does not believe a claimant, he will find a way to say that he is not credible.
If you can think of some way to be completely credible with Social Security, please let me know.