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Social Security Administration Revises Criteria Used to Evaluate Mental Disorders for Pennsylvania Residents and Others, Based on Advances in Medical Knowledge

A disability based on a mental impairment may qualify that adult or child for Social Security benefits.  Mental disorders affect an individual’s capacity to work, and for that reason, the Social Security Administration evaluates whether tasks associated with everyday life can be performed, since they indicate the severity of the mental impairment. Beginning in January 2017, the Administration will use revised criteria when assessing Pennsylvania adults and children who apply for Social Security disability benefits based on their mental health.

The Social Security Administration published a final rule on September 26, 2016, titled “Revised Medical Criteria for Evaluating Mental Disorders.”  This regulation is a comprehensive revision of the process used to evaluate disability claims that involve mental disorders.

The Administration noted that the standards used to evaluate claims involving mental disorders will reflect current practices used in the mental health community. Specifically, the Administration made clear that the standards and terminology used to evaluate mental disorder claims will rely upon information from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. This Manual is the mental health profession’s standard for classifying mental disorders.

The Social Security Administration stated that the revised rule includes information based on the knowledge of adjudicators, disability policy experts, and psychiatric professionals, among others. The Administration also made note that they updated the criteria for evaluating people with intellectual disabilities. Beginning in childhood, individuals with intellectual disabilities can experience deficits in intellectual functioning.  This can affect their basic daily social skills and life experience.  For this reason, the Administration stated they updated the criteria for intellectual disability disorders.  According to the Administration, relying on IQ test score criteria helps to identify those people who may qualify for disability benefits quickly.

In the press release, the Administration noted that the criteria for evaluating intellectual disabilities generated a lot of public interest.  The rule included comments from members of the public. It also relied on the input of mental health professionals, such as vocational experts, disability policy experts, and others.  Throughout the rule-making process, the Administration stated these professionals provided input.

The Administration also made clear that those with mental disorders are among the most vulnerable members in our society. It is the duty of the Administration to prove effective service and support.

The delay in the effective date of the rules will allow the Administration time to update their systems and provide proper guidance and training to adjudicators.  The Administration made clear that internal forms and notices must be revised before implementing final rules. Once they are effective, they will be applied to new applications filed on or after January 17, 2017, and to all pending claims after that date.

If you or a loved one suffers from a mental health disorder, and you believe you may qualify for Social Security benefits, it is advisable to begin the claims process right away.  At Needle Law, our Pennsylvania attorneys help individuals seeking Social Security benefits. We provide information and guide you through this process. For a free consultation, contact our office by calling 570-344-1266.

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