How does your work history affect a claim for disability?

How important is your work history when applying for disability?

Most people who apply for SSD or SSI have no trouble demonstrating that they have some sort of severe impairment, but many are surprised when, despite solid medical documentation, they are denied disability benefits.

In these cases, when a claimant has been denied on the basis of their presumed ability to return to their past employment or their presumed ability to transition to some new type of other work, it is the work history that has played a major role in the disability examiner's decision to deny the claim.

A claimant's work history plays a large role in the adjudication of adult disability claims. However, in all types of disability claims, medical records, and what they show or fail to show, play an even larger role.

Disability examiners review medical records to establish the existence of a severe impairment and also to determine the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC), or those activities he or she can still do in spite of the impairment. The RFC rating is then matched against jobs the claimant has held within the past 15 years (Social Security calls this the relevant period) to decide if the claimant could possibly return to one of these positions.

If the disability examiner determines that the claimant's impairment prevents him from performing his current job or any past job, he then considers the claimant's work skills, level of education, age, and physical or mental limitations to determine if there is any other job available, anywhere in the country, that the claimant could perform given this vocational profile.

Unable to do past work, but still denied

Not surprisingly, then, even when claimants have been found to be unable to return to their past work, they are often denied on the basis of being able to perform some other type of work.

How important is providing accurate and detailed information regarding one's work history when filing for disability? Very. Disability examiners rely on the description of past jobs offered by applicants to categorize these jobs. Obviously, if the descriptions are lacking, the individual's past work may be incorrectly categorized, which could have an impact as to the outcome of a decision. For this reason, it is important to provide not only a job description that includes one's past job title, but also a description of what was done on the job.

Additionally, providing contact information for one's past employers can sometimes assist the examiner in determining exactly what the job was and what it entailed, physically and/or mentally. It is not unheard of for disability examiners to contact former employers to flesh out the details of what was done on a particular job.

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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