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It can be difficult to get a treating doctor to complete Social Security's medical source statement. When a doctor balks at completing the form, sometimes the doctor will suggest a referral to a physiatrist or a physical therapist for an evaluation, so that the form regarding work-related limitations can be completed. One of my clients had that happen in July.

I just received a partially favorable decision for that case, and the ALJ's written decision contained this gem: "in July 2010 the claimant was referred for a Work Capacity Evaluation, which suggests that the claimant retained the ability to work in a capacity that needed to be determined." 

I have been thinking about that statement, and I think the judge was actually serious, rather than being deeply cynical. Either way, since the claimant was the person requesting the evaluation, it seems a bit harsh to draw that negative inference.

But wait, there's more.

The claimant was referred to a physiatrist prior to the hearing for an evaluation, and that doctor did complete the medical source statement form, assessing functional limitations that were less than the sedentary exertional level. The judge's decision gave no weight to that opinion, for this stated reason: "His opinion contained in a Medical Source Statement conflicts with his referral for a Work Capacity Evaluation."

So the reasoning here seems to be: since the doctor was asked to do a work capacity evaluation, there must be a capacity for work, and therefore the doctor's actual opinion that there is not a meaningful capacity for work will not be given any weight.

I suppose there is a certain circular logic to it.

There is no way to know if this is really the judge's thinking, or if a decision writer just ran amok. Reasoning like this is not usually analyzed in a public way, because Social Security ALJ decisions are not public documents. Even when appealed, the language of the underlying ALJ decision is rarely quoted in a district court opinion. I think it is worthwhile shining a little light on the subject. Perhaps a similar inference can be avoided in the future.