When talking with Social Security disability claimants, I often hear a statement like "I can't work because I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder" (or degenerative disc disease, or fibromyalgia). The claimant makes the statement like the matter is settled. The reasoning seems to be: since there is a doctor's diagnosis of my impairment, my disability claim should be granted.
Unfortunately, that reasoning is not at all correct. It is not the diagnosis of the impairment but the severity of the impairment that matters in a Social Security disability claim. And I explain this to clients every day.
The diagnosis is just the beginning. A good beginning to be sure, since the diagnosis satisfies the medically determinable requirement in a Social Security disability claim. But the important thing is the severity of your impairment. How much does it affect your functionality? How does it affect your ability to work? These are the important questions in a Social Security disability case.
What is missing from almost every denied Social Security disability claim is evidence establishing a claimant's functional limitations. A medical diagnosis alone does not establish any functional limitations. And unfortunately, a patient's medical records usually have little information regarding functional limitations (medical records are created and maintained for medical providers to track a patient's medical care, not to establish disability).
So remember, it's not the diagnosis but the severity of the impairment that matters. And a Social Security disability lawyer spends a great deal of time trying to obtain evidence – often a medical source statement - that will establish a claimant's functional limitations.