Can you get Disability if you are unemployable?

The answer to this question is that it depends on why you are unemployable. Let me state upfront that the SSD program (Social Security Disability) and SSI disability program revolve around the evaluation of a claimant's records in order to determine one single, solitary thing: can the claimant work?

More specifically, both disability examiners (examiners make decisions at the initial claim and reconsideration levels) and administrative law judges (ALJs make decisions at disability hearings) evaluate a claimant's medical records, work history, educational records, and daily activity questionaires to learn A) whether or not a claimant can do any of the jobs they've done in the last 15 years and B) whether or not a claimant can do some form of other work.

Many individuals who file for disability will have no trouble "getting out of past work"; in other words, it is quite common for the adjudicator to evaluate their case and reach the conclusion that they can no longer do their past work. "Other work", however, is a more difficult hurdle to get past.

Why is this? Answer---other work can be nearly "anything", meaning nearly any job that exists in the national economy, regardless of whether or not the job actually exists in the state you reside in. Doesn't sound quite fair does it? It certainly is not.

Fortunately, however, there are factors that mediate this, such as---

1. The individual's education. A claimant's level of education will limit or broaden the number and types of jobs available to them.

2. The individual's current restrictions (which can be mental or physical), which are rated by the social security administration based on a review of the claimant's medical records. Obviously, a person with memory impairment will be unable to perform certain jobs, a person with vertigo or epilepsy will be unable to do work that involves heights, a person with migraines will be unable to work in environments involving odors and bright lights (since these often serve as migraine triggers).

3. The individual's work skills. More transferrable jobs mean a broader range of other work is available, whereas fewer job skills mean the opposite.

4. The individual's age. Simply put, a claimant who has attained age 50 will be evaluated under a different set of medical and vocation rules than younger individuals and claimants who have attained age 55 will be evaluated under rules that are even more favorable than this.

So, to answer the question---can you get disability if you are unemployed? Yes, if you are unable to work due to your physical or mental condition, you may possibly be approved for disability. I say "possibly" because a person may still work and apply for disability or receive disability. However, disability benefits will be awarded to the individual who has enough limitations that they can longer work and at the same time earn what is known as SGA (the amount a person may earn each month while still qualifying for disability).

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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