Medical Experts on the Phone in the Disability Hearing

The nice thing about having a blog is that sometimes, you just have to use it to vent your frustration.  My hearing yesterday made me think about the role of a medical expert…and the latest Social Security Administration (SSA) ruling that chips away at the rights and the dignity of claimants.  My client was a twenty-year veteran of the military, with a longstanding diagnosis of bipolar disorder and depression.  She testified as to the limitations caused by her rapid cycling from mania to depression and the severe extent of her depression.  Her husband, a very nice and credible man with a  long work history himself, also testified about her depression.  But when it came time for the medical expert, the psychologist paid by SSA was on the telephone, not in person, so he never had to look the claimant in the eyes as he testified.

In his opinion, having never met my client, “she did not have bipolar disorder or depression”.  Never mind what her psychiatrist, who treated her for ten years, had to say.  Instead, he said, “she simply has a personality disorder which other people, including her husband, enable.  She takes advantage of them and her existing disability rating with the VA to avoid working.”  By now my client was in tears.  But the medical expert didn’t have to see that.  He then went on to say “sure, maybe she’s depressed a little because after all, she has nothing going for her in her life, as her children have now left and her husband is busy in his own work and life.”

You can cross-examine a medical expert but you can’t interrupt him to say what I wanted to say:  Do you have any idea of the damage you have caused to this human being who has had to sit here and listen to these things said about her?  You might, if you’d had to be present in person.

According to SSA, the new rule s to further “The SSA’s goal make the hearings process more efficient and help the agency continue to reduce its hearings backlog.”  Perhaps so, but at what cost?