How to file for disability, Filing for SSI
Disability Requirements, Disability Status
How long is the wait?, Disability Application
The Social Security List of Impairments
Qualifying for Disability, Mental Disability
Disability Lawyer Info, Disability Back Pay
How Social Security looks at your past work when deciding your disability claim
Past Work. If you read this site, you'll come across this phrase time and time again. The phrase itself would seem fairly obvious in and of itself. Just the same, though, it should be defined in the context of an application for Social Security Disability or an application for SSI. Or, for that matter, an appeal of any kind. The truth is, work is an issue that is inextricably linked to the disability benefit evaluation process. "Work" can, just as much as medical records, determine whether or not an individual will be approved for or denied disability.
So, what is past work in the eyes of the social security administration and those who serve as decision-makers on claims (administrative law "disability" judges and state-level disability examiners)?
Past work may potentially include any job you have done...in the last fifteen years. This fifteen year period actually has a name and is known as the relevant period. Why does the relevant period exist? Transferability of skills is probably the best rationale. Skills that were learned on jobs performed more than fifteen years prior are considered too far back in the past to be relied on for present and future employment.
That's a basic definition of past work. How does a claimant's past work affect an application for disability? It really has to do with the social security definition of disability and how SSD and SSI cases are processed.
In a nutshell, it works like this:
1. A claimant completes an application for disability at a social security office.
2. The person who took the application, a Claims Rep, or CR, sends the applicant's file to an agency within the state whose responsibility it is to medically process the claim and make either a disability approval or denial. In most states, this agency is known as DDS, or disability determination services.
3. At the state agency, the file is assigned to a disability examiner, an individual who will actually render the decision on the case.
4. The disability examiner will gather the claimant's medical records and will attempt to make a decision in one of two ways. First, the examiner will attempt to see if the claimant will be eligible for disability benefits on the basis of meeting or equaling a listing. Listings are basically the disability approval criteria for conditions that are contained within the Social Security Disability list of impairments (this is often referred to as the blue book).
However, not all conditions are included in the listing book and not every claimant who is eventually approved for benefits will be awarded on the basis of meeting a listing. For those who do not meet or equal a listing, or have a condition that is not contained in the listing book, the disability examiner will attempt to render a decision by using something known as sequential evaluation.
What is sequential evaluation? This is where "past work" becomes relevant to an SSD or SSI claim for benefits. For an applicant to be approved, they must have a severe condition that lasts (or can be projected to last) for one full year and which prevents them from working and earning an amount that is equivalent to what is known as SGA or substantial gainful activity.
The last paragraph contained the word "working". What does social security mean by "working"? SSA considers work to fall into two separate categories. The second category is known as other work. The first category, of course, is past work.
If a claimant is judged to be unable to return to their past work (remember, past work is potentially any job performed within the last 15 years) as a result of the physical or mental limitations imposed by their condition (or conditions), then they may possibly be awarded disability benefits. I say "possibly" because in order to be approved in this manner (i.e. not meeting or equaling a listing in the blue book), a claimant who is judged unable to return to their past work must also show that they are incapable of performing some type of other work.
How does a disability examiner (or a disability judge at a hearing) make the decision as to whether or not a claimant can return to their past work, or be judged to be incapable of doing this?
Here's how. The examiner will look at all the jobs listed by the claimant at the time of application. The examiner will then categorize these jobs by referring to a special (many would say outdated) manual that attempts to classify all known jobs.
This manual will provide a skill level and functional capacity rating for all the jobs listed within it.
So, for the sake of simplification, let's pretend that a claimant only worked one job in the last fifteen years and this job was "tractor-trailer-truck driver". This particular job is classified as a medium exertion job. How does the classification of this job play into the processing of an SSD or SSI disability claim?
Here's a basic example. If the claimant's medical records are evaluated and it is determined that the claimant is now only capable of doing light exertion work, then the claimant (whose past work consisted of being a tractor-trailer-truck driver, a medium exertion job) will be considered to be unable to return to past work.
Of course, this is a fairly simple example, simple because it does not take into account any other jobs the claimant might have had, the skill levels of those jobs, and the claimant's age, and education. However, it does illustrate one basic fact about applying for disability, which is this: when you file for disability, just as important as it is to supply extensive information about your medical treatment, it is equally important to supply detailed information about your work history. Because the information you supply to social security will have a direct bearing on the outcome of your case.
Many claimants, in fact, would be surprised that disability decision-makers (examiners and judges) don't really have some "magic" way of learning about a claimant's medical sources or prior jobs. Instead, they primarily rely on information that is supplied by the claimant. And the more accurate and detailed that information is, the better the chances of winning benefits might be.
What is the Social Security Disability SSI list of impairments?
Can you work while getting or applying for Disability?
How Often Does Social Security Approve Disability The First Time You Apply?
Tips for getting Social Security Disability or SSI benefits approved
What medical conditions will get you approved for disability?
What kind of Mental Problems Qualify for Disability?
Receiving a Disability Award Letter
Conditions Social Security will recognize as a disability
Previously answered questions regarding SSD and SSI
Applying for disability in your state
Most popular topics on SSDRC.com
Social Security Disability SSI Questions
The listings, list of disabling impairments
Can a mental illness qualify you for disability?
Disability Lawyers prevent unnecessary denials
How much Social Security Disability SSI back pay?
How to apply for disability for a child or children
Filing a Social Security Disability SSI application
Filing for disability - when to file
How to apply for disability - where to apply
Qualifications for disability benefits
How to Prove you are disabled and Win your Disability Benefits
Qualifying for Disability - The Process
How to get disability for depression
Getting disability for fibromyalgia
SSI disability for children with ADHD
What is the Application Process for Social Security Disability and SSI?
Common Mistakes to avoid after being denied for Disability
Social Security Disability SSI Exam tips
More Social Security Disability SSI Questions
Social Security Disability SSI definitions
What makes you eligible for Social Security Disability or SSI?
New and featured pages on SSDRC.com
Who can help me file for disability?
If Your Disability Benefits Are Stopped Can You Get Them While You Appeal?
How Long Does It Usually Take To Get Social Security Disability
Foot Drop and Filing for Disability
If your disability claim is approved or denied
Social Security Award letter for SSD, SSI
Decision on my Social Security Disability or SSI case
Can I get partial disability benefits?
SSD, SSI disability awards at age 50, 55
If You Get Workers Comp, Will You Get Disability From Social Security?
What medical disabilities Qualify for Disability Benefits?
Why should I pay a disability lawyer?
Getting disability forms completed by a doctor
Getting a good disability lawyer
Filing for disability with a rotator cuff injury
How Much Income Can you Earn If you draw Social Security Disability?
These pages provide answers to basic questions about pursuing disability benefits
How to check the status of my Social Security Disability claim
To qualify for disability, what to prove
Preparation to win a disability hearing
Social Security Disability lawyers FAQ
How Much Income Can you Earn If you draw Social Security Disability?
What does Social Security Disability SSI pay, how much?
Social Security Disability Maximum back pay
Social Security Disability Claims and Medical Exams
What is qualifying for disability benefits based on?
Partial Social Security Disability SSI benefits
Filing for disability and financial help
Getting approved after a Social Security Disability Psychological exam
How long does it take to receive disability benefits after you are approved?
Does Social Security Disability Come With Medicaid Benefits?
Applying for Disability or SSI - How long does it take
Can you work if you get Social Security Disability?
Am I eligible to receive disability benefits?
What medical disabilities, conditions qualify for Disability Benefits?
How to get disability for degenerative disc disease
What mental problems qualify for disability?
Conditions that get approved for disability
For the sake of clarity, SSDRC.com is not the Social Security Administration, nor is it associated or affiliated with SSA. This site is a personal, private website that is published, edited, and maintained by former caseworker and former disability claims examiner, Tim Moore, who was interviewed by the New York Times on the topic of Social Security Disability and SSI benefits in an article entitled "The Disability Mess" and also by the Los Angeles Times on the subject of political attempts to weaken the Social Security Disability system.
The goal of the site is to provide information about how Social Security Disability and SSI work, the idea being that qualified information may help claimants pursue their claims and appeals, potentially avoiding time-consuming mistakes. If you find the information on this site helpful and believe it would be helpful to others, feel free to share links to its homepage or other pages on website resource pages, blogs, or social media. Copying of this material, however, is prohibited.
To learn more about the author, please visit the SSDRC.com homepage and view the "about this site" link near the bottom of the page.