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Psychiatric Disability

Stephen M. Raffle, M.D.

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Curriculum Vitae

By Stephen M. Raffle, M.D.

A psychiatric disability exists when a person is mentally impaired by a psychiatric disorder.  Impairment can be partial or total, temporary or permanent, and must be taken in the context of performance of varying types of tasks.  For example, can a job be performed (or performance in a particular occupation)? Carrying out tasks of daily living? The assessment of the psychiatric impairment requires a psychiatric evaluation.  The scope of the psychiatric evaluation is situation-specific.  The assessment of Psychiatric Disability usually requires a review of medical records, face-to-face examination if possible, appropriate psychometric testing, and a review of relevant collateral information, e.g. deposition testimony, investigative reports, interviews with other interested parties.

The context for the Psychiatric Disability assessment is specific to the referral question(s). [1][2]  For example, in the context of holding a job:

  • Ability to work in any occupation.  (With special applications regarding the Defense Base Act, Longshore and Harbor Workers, Railroad Act, Social Security Disability)
  • Ability to work in a specific occupation.  (Disability Insurance, Workers’ Compensation, Fitness for Duty)
  • Ability to work if specified and reasonable accommodations are provided by the employer (Americans with Disabilities Act – ADA).
  • Ability to work after a specific event which allegedly caused the psychiatric disability (Personal Injury, Harassment, Discrimination).

[An aside: In personal injury cases, an event which is alleged to have triggered or exacerbated a mental health condition is clarified by a forensic assessment.  Is a diagnosed psychiatric disorder present, did it preexist or follow an alleged ‘triggering event’, did the event worsen a preexisting illness?  How does a mental health disability affect that person’s post-event life.  A psychiatric condition can be disabling but treatable, or be an issue of damages yet not be a Disability (capital D) as defined under any number of administrative criteria (Social Security Disability Benefits, for example)].


[1] “Practice Guideline The Forensic Evaluation of Psychiatric Disability.”  The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, Volume 43, Supplement, Number 2 (2015 Supplement).

[2] Linda Cocchiarella, Andersson, Gunnar B.J.  Guides to the Evaluation of Impairment, Fifth Ed. American Medical Association.  AMA Press. (2006)

DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this website does not constitute legal or medical advice. Readers should consult with their own legal counsel or physician for the most current information and to obtain professional legal advice or medical advice before acting on any of the information presented.

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