Overview of Disability
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Social Security List of Conditions
What Social Security considers disabling
Medical Evidence and Disability
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SSD SSI Definitions
SSDRC authored by Tim Moore
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How Social Security rates your ability to do things will determine how your case is decided
When you apply for disability, SSA gathers your medical records and determines how limited you are in your ability to perform normally daily activities. When it comes to physical capacity, they look at a wide variety of functions (here, we are referring to just physical limitations, but there is a separate process for evaluating mental limitations also), but it always comes down to a rating of sedentary, light, or medium.
To simplify things a bit, if you get a sedentary RFC, it means SSA thinks you can do sedentary work but nothing more than that. If you get a light RFC, it means that SSA thinks you can do light work, but nothing more than that. If you get a medium RFC, it means that SSA thinks you can do medium work but nothing more than that.
Obviously, it will be in the person's best interests to have the most restrictive RFC possible because with more restrictions you are considered to have less of a realistic chance of being able to work. That is why a light RFC makes a case stronger than a medium RFC. A sedentary RFC makes a case stronger than either a light or medium RFC.
A medium RFC means that Social Security believes that the person has the capability of lifing 25 lbs frequently and 50 lbs occasionally. That determination can be made by a judge at a hearing, or if the case is at the application level or reconsideration appeal level, it can be made by a disability examiner.
Now, on the subject of a medium RFC, I have a gripe.
I said a long time ago that doctors who work on SSD and SSI disability cases at disability determination services should be required to have a 50 lb dumbbell beside their desk. Why? To let them know what fifty pounds really is. Because, honestly, I don't think most of them know how much stress having to lift fifty lbs occasionally as part of one's job duties (a medium RFC entails lifting 25 lbs frequently and 50 lbs occasionally) actually puts on the body.
A lot of them, I'm sure, would have trouble picking up a 50 pounder even once. And I am fairly certain this would affect how often they dole out medium RFC ratings to claimants with significant back problems such as lumbar degenerative disc disease.
Think about it. You can't really feel someone else's pain. No matter how much you hear their expression of it. In fact, it's a psychological phenomenon that the more we hear someone's complaints of pain and discomfort, the more desensitized we become to them.
So, what does this mean for the disability evaluation system? Well, doctors who routinely see patients with painful conditions for which the treatment options are either limited or exhausted tend to become "distanced" (back pain, fibromyalgia, etc). But, also, (in my opinion), disability examiners who tend to be younger individuals probably have less empathy toward many conditions simply because, as a group, their average age precludes having experienced a lot of pain and impairment.
Some may object to my inference that the disability system is less than objective. But it is a very subjective system, despite the blue book and the grid. If it wasn't then there wouldn't be this huge chasm of disconnect between cases that are denied at the reconsideration level and cases that are later approved at a disability hearing.
Return to: Social Security Disability Resource Center, or read answers to Questions
Are SSI and SSD disability claims denied by social security for lack of evidence?
How long will it usually take to get a decision on a disability claim?
Is There An Age Requirement For Social Security Disability?
The first appeal in a social security disability or SSI case
How long does a request for a disability hearing appeal take?
Tips, how to apply for disability
How to find out if approved for disability?
Social Security Disability hearing decision time
Disability examiners, claims reps, and disability lawyers
Disability examiners make medical decisions on SSD and SSI claims
Tips for veterans filing for Social Security Disability
Information on the following topics can be found here: Social Security Disability Questions and in these subsections:
Frequently asked questions about getting Denied for Disability Benefits | FAQ on Disability Claim Representation | Info about Social Security Disability Approvals and Being Approved | FAQ on Social Security Disability SSI decisions | The SSD SSI Decision Process and what gets taken into consideration | Disability hearings before Judges | Medical exams for disability claims | Applying for Disability in various states | Selecting and hiring Disability Lawyers | Applying for Disability in North Carolina | Recent articles and answers to questions about SSD and SSI
These pages provide answers to basic questions about pursuing disability benefits
What Mental Problems Qualify for Disability?
Disability for a mental condition
Tips for Filing for disability
Financial Help Filing For Disability
Checklist for filing for disability, SSI or SSD
Qualifying for disability benefits, how to qualify for SSD or SSI
Filing a disability application: the steps
Disability award notice, how long it takes to get benefits
How to Apply for Disability - Where do I go?
What makes you eligible to get disability?
How to check my disability claim status?
Can a disability attorney speed up a disability case?
SSI disability Award Letter
How long to get approved for disability?
How to apply for disability benefits
How long does disability back pay take?
What are qualifications for getting disability?
What medical conditions can you file disability for?
Disability Lawyer help questions
Social Security Attorneys, Disability Representatives