I'm exagerating. Merriam-Webster has not removed the word "credible" from the dictionary. However the Social Security Administration has removed the word from Social Security Law. And that's a good thing. I was so excited when I first found out about this when it was released on March 16th in the Federal Register. Some of the after-glow is still with me. So what's the big deal? I'll tell you what's the big deal.
One of the greatest and ongoing challenges Social Security has in determining the validity of a claim is whether the objective medical tests of an individual are consistent with the reported symptoms and the intensity, persistence, and limiting affects of the symptoms. They take many factors into consideration when making a determination of whether or not this consistency exists. The problem has been that at some point in the process the word "credible" sneaked into the process. As Social Security notes, the word "credible" does not appear in any of the guiding statutes and regulations. Yet often judges and/or doctors retained by Social Security to conduct consultative exams would put in their decisions that an individual was "less than credible," or "partially creedible," or "somewhat credible." This of course sounds like they are claiming that the individual is lying. Pain, suffering, and exact limitations are not always such a black and white thing. These are things we don't yet even have exact ways to measure (though we are getting close).
The best part of the Social Security Ruling 16-3p: Titles II and XVI: Evaluation of Symptoms in Disability Claims is as follows:
". . . we are eliminating the use of the term "credibility" from our subregulatory policy . . . In doing so, we clarify that subjective symptom evaluation is not an examination of and individual's character."
We're not done yet though because let's be real.
While I like that the word credibility is being abolished it does not mean that the issue itself has just vanished from the determination process. If you ask any non-attorney person on the street what judges do many of them are likely to say "Determine who is telling the truth."
So a Judge may think someone is lying or exagerating about how bad an injury, illness or condition actually is. A Judge may think they are lying or exagerating about what type of motions they can and/or cannot due relating to physical work. The wording will now just be that the claimant's testimony in these regards is not consistent with the medical record or totally consistent or only somewhat consistent. And there are other ways a Judge can use other language besides "credibility" to say they did not totally believe someone.
Shouldn't there be cases where the Judge can outright tell someone they think they are lying? Apparently not anymore. Why are Judges even needed then if no credibility determinations need to be made? Hmmmm. I need to think about this one some more. I'm not as excited about this as when I first started writing this entry. I think the term credibility should be used sparingly not they way it is currently often used but I don't know who we are kidding by abolishing it completely.