Combination of Impairments Must be Considered

It is worth a reminder that the law requires the Social Security Administration to consider the combined effects of impairments— physical, mental or emotional —when making a decision about disability. The combination of such impairments may be disabling, even though each separately is not.

Too often claimants do not tell Social Security, or even their own doctors, about all of their symptoms. This happens for several reasons. Some people are embarrassed to report emotional problems. Many with chronic illnesses do not realize they also suffer from depression. And, because they do not fully understand the law, they do not realize that a combination of all disabilities and symptoms may add up to winning benefits.

Sometimes people hesitate to file for disability benefits because they think their major disability is bad, but not “that bad.” A claimant must acknowledge the full extent of an illness to make a disability claim, often a difficult personal step.

Some prescription medicines, particularly psychiatric and pain medications, may create powerful side effects such as fatigue, nausea or impaired concentration. It is important that these side effects be noted in the medical records. In some cases, the side effects of medication may be disabling in themselves, and this needs to be clarified for the decision maker.