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What is a medically determinable physical or mental impairment?

According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), a medically determinable physical or mental impairment must result from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities that can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. The impairment must be established by objective medical evidence (signs, laboratory findings, or both) from an acceptable medical source, not on an individual’s statement of symptoms.

Medical Evidence

In seeking Social Security Disability benefits, it's crucial to understand how the Social Security Administration (SSA) evaluates your application.


The SSA requires clear, objective medical evidence to establish the presence of a disability. This means that the disability must be supported by physical, mental, or psychological abnormalities that can be identified through clinical evaluations and laboratory tests conducted by recognized medical professionals. Simply put, the existence of a disability must be verifiable through medical data, not just personal accounts of discomfort or pain.

For your application to be considered, it's essential to have up-to-date medical records documenting your condition and the ongoing treatment you're receiving. The Disability Determination Services (DDS) will review these records meticulously, looking at treatment notes, imaging results, prescribed medications, and any physical therapy you may be undergoing. They're assessing the nature of your impairments and their longevity and potential to persist for at least 12 months or lead to mortality.

A common hurdle many applicants face is the insufficiency of their medical documentation. If the medical records are sparse or fail to capture the full extent of the impairments, DDS may not find enough evidence to substantiate the claimed disability. It's important to remember that DDS relies solely on the written documentation in your medical records. They do not engage in direct discussions with you, your healthcare providers, or your personal network to gather additional insights. Therefore, ensuring that your medical records are comprehensive and accurately reflect the severity of your condition is paramount.

If you're concerned that your doctor might not be documenting your condition thoroughly in your medical records or wondering whether a doctor's note stating your inability to work is sufficient for your claim, it's important to delve deeper into these issues. A detailed doctor's note can be supportive, but it must be part of a broader set of medical evidence that paints a full picture of your impairments and their impact on your daily functioning. 

Navigating the intricacies of Social Security Disability claims can be challenging, but understanding the importance of robust, detailed medical documentation is critical in advocating for your rights and securing the benefits you need.

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