New Criteria for Evaluating Mental Disorders

What mental disorders qualify for social security disability benefits?

The Social Security Administration announced new rules in September concerning the criteria the agency will use to evaluate disability claims related to mental disorders. The new rules, slated to take effect on January 17, 2017, are said to be the most extensive changes to this criteria in more than 30 years. In devising the new rule, the SSA considered public comments to its proposed rule released earlier this year.

More importantly, the agency relied on the input from disability policy experts, SSA lawyers and judges, as well as the expertise of psychiatric professionals. The administration also worked closely with a variety of people who have direct interest or involvement in benefit programs for those with mental disorders, particularly disability beneficiaries and their families. In sum, the new medical criteria is being aligned with the mental health professions standards set forth in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Edition).

“We are committed to updating our regulations to reflect up-to-date standards and practices used in the health care community,” said Carolyn W. Colvin, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security.

Mental Impairments at a Glance

Currently, the SSA has an official list of impairments (the so-called “blue book”) that contain medical conditions considered to be inherently disabling such as schizophrenia, autistic disorders, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, mental retardation and substance abuse disorders. This requires a disability examiner to make a determination if an applicant’s symptoms of a cognitive, mental or emotional disorder meets the criteria  listed in the blue book.

The SSA has taken this action to update its criteria for evaluating intellectual disability as many of these individuals have significant problems functioning and do not have daily practical and social skills. The agency will now rely on new diagnostic and functional criteria, along with IQ test scores, in order to more expediently identify those who may qualify for disability benefits.

The Takeaway

In the end, qualifying for disability benefits should become less complicated for people with mental disorders. These individuals are particularly vulnerable, and it is critical to ensure that they get the benefits, service and support they need, and deserve.

Nonetheless, navigating the social security system can be a daunting challenge, and many applicants are met with long delays or are subsequently denied. For this reason, if you are trying to obtain disability benefits for a loved one suffering with a mental disorder, you are well advised to engage the services of an experienced disability benefits attorney.