Suicide and Social Security Disability


The recent celebrity deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have reignited a national conversation about death by suicide.  According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there are about 123 suicides a day.  For each suicide, there are 25 attempts.  Men commit suicide 3.5 times more frequently than women.  Death by suicide is a leading cause of death in the U.S.  In  fact, according to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate has increased in nearly every state from 1999 through 2016 (only Nevada showed a decease in the suicide rate of 1%).  While somewhat counter intuitive, a lack of a history of mental illness is not an accurate predictor of whether a person will commit suicide.  In fact, about 54% of the people who committed suicide were not diagnosed with a mental health condition when they died.  The experts have not identified one single issue or cause for the reason people commit suicide.  There are a number of factors which are felt to contribute to death by suicide.  These factors include health, abuse, job, money, legal, housing and relationships.  (The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll free number is 1-800-273-8255.)

Social Security does not recognize the possibility of “suicide” by itself as a disabling condition.  Similarly, Social Security does not award disability to the survivor of a person who committed suicide, just because the person committed suicide.  However, Social Security does identify suicidal risk as a condition which, when combined with other signs and symptoms, may form the basis of an award for Social Security disability benefits.  For example, when evaluating whether a person’s depressive disorder meets or equals listing 12.04, the person’s depression must be characterized by at least five of nine separate symptoms listed by the Commissioner.  One of the nine symptoms include “thoughts of death or suicide.”

The Social Security Administration does recognize “suicidal tendencies ” as a basis for expedited handling and ruling of an application for disability and for an appeal for disability.  The rules for the Social Security staff designating a case as “critical” (and therefore entitled to expedited handling) is basic “the OHO staff may designate the case as critical if there is an indication that the claimant is suicidal.” (HALLEX I-1-2-1-40.)  It is likely that the claimant’s statements to the OHO staff are not enough to have the case designated suicidal.  Normally, the staff requires medical documentation to support suicidal tendencies.  The medical documentation must, normally, be supported by the findings or conclusions of a medical provider.  An advocate for the claimant should consider filing a request to have the case declared “critical” because the medical record supports the conclusion suicidal risks.  In my experience, the Social Security staff is well trained in the area of whether a case should be expedited due to suicidal risks.



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