Will You Get Social Security Disability Benefits If You Cannot Work Your Old Job?

Social Security Disability is not a long-term or short-term disability program that allows disability benefits on the basis of not being able to work your old job. Social Security Disability is a total disability program that requires that an individual not be able to perform substantial gainful activity (SGA) at any job due to the limitations of their disabling conditions.

SGA is a monthly amount of earnings that Social Security has determined to be substantial or self-supporting. Social Security really does not care if you earned this amount at your last job, or at another job that you have performed in the past. SGA has to do with any employment that you might have while you are attempting to win disability benefits, or employment that you might have while you are receiving disability benefits.

Since Social Security Disability is based on an inability to engage in substantial gainful work activity due to a severe impairment (physical or mental impairment or both), you may able to be approved for benefits if A) you cannot work your old job, and B) you are unable to perform any other type of job with your skills and given your residual functional capacity (what you are able to do in spite of your limitations).

Social Security uses a five-step sequential evaluation process to make their medical determinations on all disability claims that do not involve an impairment that meets or equals the requirements of a Social Security impairment listing in the SSA blue book (of course, even if you meet or equal an impairment listing, meaning you would be approved for disability, you still cannot be working and earning over the SGA limit).

The last two steps of the sequential evaluation process involve past work and the ability to perform other work. If you are found to be unable to work at any of your old jobs (jobs that you did for three months or longer, had time to learn, and were paid SGA-level earnings in the past fifteen years), you move to the next step which involves an evaluation as to your ability to perform other jobs.

Disability examiners consider your residual functional capacity, age, skills, and education when determining if you have the ability to transfer your skills to another job or be re-trained for other work (note: the system does offer some advantage to individuals who are fifty-five years old or more as they are not considered good candidates for retraining).

If the disability examiner determines that you are not able to perform other work, in addition to not being able to do an old job that is part of your relevant work history, you will be able to receive disability benefits provided that you are not working and earning at least the SGA amount and, in the case of SSI disability (a need-based program), you do not have countable assets in excess of two thousand dollars.

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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