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What Is a GAF Score and What Does It Have to Do with Social Security Disability Benefits?

Posted on in Denied Social Security Benefits

IL disability lawyerSocial Security administrative law judges (ALJs) are expected to rely on medical evidence when assessing an application for disability benefits. The most critical form of medical evidence comes from the applicant's own treating physicians. But the ALJ may also consider other forms of evidence, including something known as a GAF score.

GAF stands for the “Global Assessment of Function.” It is a rating system used to assess a disability applicant's mental function on a 1 to 100 scale. A higher score typically indicates a higher degree of mental functioning.

Now, a GAF score is simply a doctor's opinion regarding the overall impact of an applicant's mental disorders at a given time. It is not an objective diagnostic test. And an ALJ is not allowed to grant or deny disability benefits based solely–or even primarily–on a GAF score. Rather, it is simply one piece of information the ALJ may consider as part of an applicant's overall case.

Magistrate: ALJ Cannot Solely Rely on GAF Scores to Discredit Treating Psychiatrist's Opinions

In a recent Illinois disability case, Veronica H. v. Saul, a federal magistrate judge reiterated that GAF scores on their own “carry little probative value” in assessing a disability claim as they “only provide a snapshot of a particular moment rather than a longer-term prognosis.”

This particular case involved a woman who first applied for disability benefits in 2013. At issue was an ALJ's finding that the applicant did not qualify as disabled during the period from May 2013 and March 2015. In making this finding, the ALJ chose to give “little weight” to the expert medical opinions of the applicant's treating psychiatrist.

The ALJ pointed to the psychiatrist's treatment notes, which indicated “significant changes in [the applicant's] GAF score in a relatively short period of time.” This was not improper, the magistrate said, but this did not by itself justify discounting the psychiatrist's overall opinions on the applicant's ability to mentally function in a workplace setting.

Indeed, the psychiatrist said the applicant “was markedly limited” in her ability to perform basic tasks like remembering locations, understanding and following detailed instructions, and working with others “without distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes.”

The ALJ maintained the applicant's condition was “generally progressing.” But the magistrate said the ALJ “failed to point to specific evidence” that this was the case. All the ALJ could cite was evidence of “sporadic activities” of daily living on the part of the applicant. But Social Security is required to provide a “more fulsome discussion” explaining how such activities contradict a treating doctor's findings.

Speak with an Illinois Social Security Disability Attorney Today

Measuring the scope of a person's mental disability is not as simple as assigning an arbitrary score. Sometimes, Social Security needs to be reminded of this. An experienced Chicago disability benefits lawyer can help you make sure an ALJ considers all of the evidence relevant to your application. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, at 312-999-0999 to schedule a free consultation with a member of our team today.




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