On March 16, 2016, the SSA issued a new ruling that significantly changes the way that the agency makes disability determinations. Social Security disability lawyers and their clients should take notice of this considerable change. SSR-16-3p, Evaluation of Symptoms in Disability Claims, supersedes SSR- 96-7p. For a copy of SSR 16-3p click here. This ruling is effective immediately.
SSR 16-3p completely eliminates credibility findings from the adjudication process. Determining whether a claimant was credible or not used to be a central part of the decision process followed by administrative law judges (ALJ's). Now, credibility cannot be a factor used by the ALJ to decide a case. At this point, it is too early to tell exactly what effect this ruling will have. One positive aspect of SSR 16-3p is that, from now on, ALJ's can no longer put the claimant's character on trial. Up until this ruling was issued, "character assassination" was frequently used to justify a denial of benefits. For example, supposed prior bad acts by a claimant, such as a period of incarceration or getting fired from a job, was frequently cited as a reason for denying benefits.
Instead of making a credibility determination, the new ruling requires the ALJ to find out whether the claimant's allegations are "consistent" with the medical evidence and with the statements contained on the record. If the ALJ finds that the claimant's allegations are not consistent, then the ALJ must explain the specific reasons why the allegations are not consistent. General statements regarding the consistency of the allegations are not enough.
One negative aspect of SSR 16-3p is that, from now on, ALJ's cannot make credibility findings based on a claimant's good work record. On many occasions, I have successfully argued that the allegations of a claimant who has been a good worker, should be given full credibility. Due to this new ruling, it is uncertain what, if any, importance will a claimant's work record have in the disability determination process.