Social Security Disabled Benefits
The social security administration (SSA) considers individuals to be disabled if they can demonstrate through solid medical documentation (medical records) that they have a severe impairment which prevents them from participating in substantial gainful activity (SGA), and that this condition is expected to last for at least 12 months.
What does it mean to be unable to “participate in substantial gainful activity”? It means that you are unable to earn a minimum amount each month (the 2009 SGA amount is $980 and was $940 in 2008, but is recalculated by the SSA annually to account for inflation, cost of living increases, etc.).
If your medical records show that you have a severe impairment that prevents you from earning the SGA, then you may qualify for disability. However, this is if and only if you can prove that your impairment prevents you from performing not only your current job, but any other work for which you may be qualified for disability.
As you can probably guess, it’s the “any other work” clause that prevents most claimants from being approved for disability benefits. “Any other work” includes any type of work that you have done in the past 15 years (what social security calls the “relevant period” of employment); however, it also includes any job that the disability examiner thinks you are qualified to perform, given your past work history, job skills, age, education, and of course your current physical or mental limitations.
The fact that social security is required by law to take a claimant’s age and educational background into consideration before suggesting other types of employment does ensure some measure of fairness. After all, it’s just common sense that companies are less likely to hire older workers due to insurance costs, earlier retirement from the company, etc., and few would argue that those who have more education generally have more job opportunities. It’s also important to note that a disability examiner is not allowed to suggest types of work that are not supported by the information on your residual functional capacity (RFC) form. The RFC spells out exactly what types of activities a person can and cannot due as a result of their impairment, so even if you are young, educated, and have mastered certain job skills in the past, an examiner cannot recommend any type of employment that includes duties your RFC says you are incapable of performing.
Unfortunately, it is still entirely possible that you will get denied for disability because the examiner says you are able to perform a job that is not even available in your area, which is why if your claim gets turned down it is best to get legal representation and appeal the decision to an administrative judge—sometimes it takes an attorney pointing out the obvious to a disability judge (e.g., there are no publishing jobs in Paris, Texas) before a deserving claimant will be declared disabled and finally begin to see some financial relief.
For information on Social Security Disability, visit the
Social Security Disability Benefits Resource Center