SSD AND SSI Disability Benefits and Back Pain

Many individuals suffering from chronic back pain find that their condition severely limits their ability to work, but are not sure if they can collect disability benefits based on this condition (back pain) alone, or if they need a more definitive diagnosis, such as osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, etc.

If you file for Social Security Disability (SSD) on the basis of back pain, a disability examiner will first evaluate your medical records to determine if your symptoms meet the criteria for any musculoskeletal conditions listed in the social security list of impairments, or blue book.

However, even if the examiner in your case determines that your impairment does not meet the criteria of any listings in the blue book, you might still be eligible for disability benefits.

This is because the Social Security Administration (SSA) does not evaluate claims based on a specific medical diagnosis, but instead awards benefits to those with impairments that prevent them from participating in substantial gainful activity (SGA). This amount changes periodically; to check the current amount, go to this page: SGA earnings cap.

So if you can provide solid medical documentation to support your claim that your back pain prevents you from earning at least that amount, you may very well qualify for disability benefits.

If your back pain is not the result of a musculoskeletal condition listed in the SSA blue book, there are two other ways in which you can still qualify for SSD or supplemental security income (SSI) benefits: 1) A disability examiner or judge can decide that your symptoms are equal in severity to those of a musculoskeletal condition that is listed in the social security book of impairments (referred to as equaling a listing), or 2) A disability examiner or judge can decide that your symptoms limit your residual functional capacity (your ability to perform work-related tasks) to the point that you are no longer able to earn a living wage (see SGA amount above).

The good news is that most applicants who are awarded Social Security Disability or SSI for back pain do not meet a listing in the blue book. The not-so-good news is that those who fail to meet a listing must qualify for a medical vocational allowance in order to win benefits, and a medical vocational allowance is awarded only to those who can demonstrate that their condition prevents them from performing not only their current job, but any past jobs, and any other work to which they may be suited (based on age, education, physical or mental limitations, etc.). Needless to say, many disability applications are denied based on a disability examiner's decision that you are still able to perform other work.

For this reason it is extremely important for those filing for disability based on back pain to provide a complete work history to social security, detailing not only titles held at past jobs, but the specific duties performed in each position'you do not want the disability examiner assuming you are qualified to perform tasks (other work) for which you have no prior experience or ability.

Additional information:

Social Security Disability SSI and Degenerative Disc Disease

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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