Does Social Security Depend on Your Illness or the kind of Work that You Did?

Disability examiners take into account both your level of illness and the type of work you have performed in the past when deciding a qualify you for disability, because examiners do not focus on the specific symptoms or limitations but rather on how these symptoms prevent the claimant from performing current or past work, or any other work.

Because disability examiners rely so heavily on medical records and past work to make their decisions, it is very important provide specific and accurate information on both the medical history and work history that you provide with your initial application.

Even if you have been under a physician's care for many years, do not assume that your medical records will be enough to be approved for disability, because often they are not. Although physician notes usually include the initial diagnosis and information about your symptoms and how they have progressed (prognosis), they are rarely specific as to how these symptoms impact your ability to work. They are created by physicians for themselves and for other physicians who need to understand your medical needs.

Unlike physicians, a disability examiner's job is not to treat your illness, but to determine if you are ill enough to prevent you from participating in substantial gainful work activity (which basically means earning a certain amount each month: Current SGA limit amount).

Thus, having your physician complete a residual functional capacity (RFC) statement for your case could really strengthen your claim. An RFC rating can be a typed or handwritten statement or a form that is a simple check-off list indicating the activities a patient can or cannot perform. The term residual functional capacity is used by Social Security to refer to physical or mental limitations an applicant for disability faces due to his or her level of illness.

The type of work you did in the past can definitely affect the examiner's decision, depending on your illness. For instance, if you have always performed physically demanding labor in the past, the inability to lift, crouch, stoop, stand for long periods of time, etc., could prevent you from performing your past work or any other similar type of work.

Likewise, if you have always worked in jobs that require a high degree of cognitive functioning and suddenly lose the capacity to concentrate due to a mental or physical illness, you might qualify for SSD or SSI disability benefits based on the fact that you cannot perform past jobs or any other work that requires these skills.

In general though, educated individuals, those with a history of working at less physically demanding jobs, and those with a higher level of job skills have a harder time getting approved for disability. These people are usually determined to be more capable of finding, or being trained for other types of employment. But this is not to say that someone in a position like this cannot win a disability claim. It will usually mean a hearing, however, involving a an attorney who presents a prepared case before a federal administrative law judge.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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