Each listing is further qualified by criteria A and B. For organic mental disorders, schizophrenic, paranoia, and affective disorders, or other psychotic and anxiety-related disorders, an additional set of criteria (criteria C) may be used to meet the diagnostic and impairment-related restriction of functioning requirements. Disability is therefore met when criteria A and B are met, or when criteria C is met.
The report should be typewritten (not handwritten). DDS jurisdictions usually provide dictations by phone. Again, the report should provide a longitudinal and current assessment of the case. The pathogenesis of the disease is helpful in establishing the nature and duration of illness. General observations of the patient, his history, and any additional information required for that listing of diagnoses are other essential elements of the report. If there is a comorbidity, this should be stated. This is especially important for the claimant who has several minor disabilities which, when taken together, may affect his ability to work.
In addition, for consultative examinations, the number of appointments the patient has canceled and difficulties in keeping appointments may point to a diagnosis of an anxiety-related condition. Prolonged treatment by a primary care physician may be a clue to chronic treatment-resistant depression. The report must record the patient’s education or employment and rehabilitation history.
In preparing the report, the psychiatrist should be aware of how, in which manner, and to what extent the mental impairment limits the patient’s functionality.6
Items from criteria A are delusions/hallucinations, catatonic behavior, and incoherence. For criteria B, items are selected from 4 domains:
• Activities of daily living (eg, grocery shopping, doing laundry)
• Social functioning (eg, ability to interact socially with other people at home or in a public setting)
• Concentration, persistence, and pace (eg, inability to complete a task in the given time)
• Deterioration or decompensation in work or worklike setting (eg, panic attacks, psychotic decompensations, and crying)
For these domains, the documentation must be sufficiently descriptive and explicit to permit an assessment of the appropriateness, independence, sustainability, quality, and effectiveness of these functions over long periods. The examples of deficits in those domains must be tied directly to the mental disorder, rather than to circumstantial factors. For example, a statement that “the patient does not do any grocery shopping, laundry, or cooking” or a statement that the patient cannot complete a task will be inadequate without specifically saying that these examples are caused by the clinical manifestations of the mental disorder and not by circumstantial factors.
Tony is 32 years old. He has been ill since age 22, when he was a second-year law student. He came home and informed his parents that poisonous gases were being pumped into his room. He dropped out of school and made attempts to return to school but failed. He has remained paranoid; he keeps to himself and has been hospitalized 5 times. He was hospitalized 6 months ago when he became belligerent at work. He believed his supervisors were out to get him. He has been on a combination of several antipsychotics to help reduce his hallucinations and delusions. His longest period of employment in 10 years was 3 months. He has never earned more than $300 per month.
By meeting 1 item from criteria A and 2 items from criteria B, Tony meets (at least superficially) the requirement for disability under the listing of schizophrenia. Alternatively, criteria C may be used. The psychiatric report to DDS should include the date, time, and place of the assessment. It should conclude with a 5-axis diagnosis as well as a statement of daily activities. The report should not make any recommendation as to whether the application should be approved or denied. This is a function for DDS. The report should be signed and dated.
DDS evaluation forms
The use of and familiarity with the Psychiatric Review Technique form and the Residual Functioning Capacity form can greatly enhance the quality of the medical evidence. The concepts and terms in these forms are those generally used by DDS and administrative judges. Attorneys who represent mentally ill claimants frequently attempt to bolster their cases by having the treating psychiatrist complete these forms. The emphasis in completing these forms is to continuously link the signs, symptoms, and diagnosis to the restrictions and limitations of functioning.
The Psychiatric Review Technique form is completed by a DDS psychologist or psychiatrist for all claims that involve mental illness. That form should include a summary of what mental impairments are present and the degree of functional loss in criteria B and C. In activities of daily living and social functioning the functional loss ratings are none, slight, moderate, marked, extreme restrictions, and insufficient evidence. In the domains of deficiencies and concentration, persistence, or pace, the ratings are never, seldom, often, frequent, and constant. For episodes of deterioration or decompensation in work or worklike settings, the ratings range from never, or once or twice, to repeated (3 or more times), and continual. The emphasis is on how specific symptoms and signs from the Psychiatric Review Technique form impair work-related activities in the Residual Functioning Capacity assessment.
When the medical evidence shows that the level of severity of impairment falls between “meets or equals” the listed mental criteria or “does not significantly affect work-related capacities” DDS psychiatrists or psychologists usually complete the residual capacity and assessment form. This procedure attempts to gauge what the claimant may do despite his limitations. It assesses the claimant’s impairment, related functioning limitations, the degree, severity, and frequency of the limitations, as well as the claimant’s ability to sustain work-related activities in the face of restricted functioning during a normal work day or week. The form contains examples of mental activities that are grouped under 4 headings:
• Understanding, comprehension, and memory (eg, ability to remember locations and worklike procedures)
• Sustaining concentration and persistence, ability to perform activities within a schedule (eg, attendance and punctuality)
• Social interaction (eg, ability to sustain socially appropriate behavior and to maintain a reasonable standard of neatness and cleanliness)
• Adaptation (eg, ability to respond adequately and appropriately to the work environment)
The RFC items are rated as not significantly limited, moderately limited, markedly limited, no evidence of limitation, or not rateable based on available evidence.
Some patients such as infants, children, and adolescents have special needs. In this setting, only psychiatrists who have clinical experience working with children and adolescents should agree to do consultative examinations for children under the age of 18. The listings for children are similar to those for adults, but they take into consideration age-appropriate and developmental factors, the unique presentation of certain diagnostic categories in this age group, the impact of schooling, and the need for corroborative evidence.
School teachers, social workers, and foster care parents may provide information that is essential for making appropriate decisions. Appropriate psychological tests may contribute to a more informative report. In fact, for children, the use of psychological tests may be more critical than for adults.
Another class of claimants are those with multiple minor impairments. Each condition with its concomitant restrictions and functions should be well described. Also, the needs of veterans have taken center stage: practitioners should be familiar with the subtleties of posttraumatic stress disorder.