Qualifying for disability with Carpal Tunnel

There are two methods of qualifying for disability benefits in either the Social Security Disability or SSI program. The first is by satisfying the requirements of a bluebook manual listing. The second is through the disability determination process that may result in what is known as a medical vocational allowance.

Listing approvals

An approval that is made through meeting or equaling the requirements of a listing happens when:

A) a person has a medical condition that is listed in the blue book impairment listing manual (aka the adult or childhood listings) and

B) their medical records provide all the information contained in the listing.

Less than half of all cases are approved through a listing because the requirements are often substantial.

Medical Vocational approvals

The second type of approval is made through the 5 step sequential process and this occurs when a person's case proves that:

A) they are not currently working and earning more than the earnings limit for SSD and SSI disability,

B) the individual has a medically determinable medical condition (meaning verifiable by medical records and the diagnosis made by a licensed medical physician) that is found to be severe.

C) the condition is so severe that it results in enough functional limitation that it makes it impossible for the person to go back to their past work and also makes it impossible for them to do any other type of work for which they might be suited based on their age, skills, and education, as well as their current physical and/or mental limitations.

Qualifying for disability with Carpal Tunnel

Though it may surprise many, Carpal Tunnel syndrome is not listed in the Social Security listing book; therefore, an approval cannot be made this way and can only be made by proving that the claimant is so limited that a return to work activity is not possible. This includes one's past work as well as other types of work which they have never done but which Social Security will still nevertheless consider them for anyway, based on their age, education, and work skills.

In evaluating a person with Carpal Tunnel, a disability examiner or judge might find that the condition sufficiently rules out enough use of one or both hands or sufficiently restricts the use of one or both hands. If the claimant's past work relied distinctly on the ability to manipulate, i.e. to use their hands, this could make a return to past jobs not possible.

Social Security will rate a claimant's "manipulative limitations" when assessing their residual functional capacity, something that is normally done after a disability examiner has received and read a claimant's medical records and then consulted with a unit medical consultant (disability examiners work in case processing units that include medical doctors and licensed psychologists with whom they consult for opinions).

RFC, or residual functional capacity, is an assessment of what a person can still do despite their condition. Manipulative limitations that are rated on an RFC form include the following:

1) The ability to reach in all directions, including reaching overhead.

2) The ability to use the hands to handle objects, defined as gross manipulation.

3) The ability to use the fingers, referred to as fingering and defined as fine manipulation.

4) Feeling, which involves the skin receptors.

It is fairly obvious that manipulative limitations can make the performance of many jobs very difficult or impossible. And carpal tunnel syndrome may easily cause limitations in all of these manipulative abilities. Qualifying for disability benefits with this condition will depend on establishing that there are limitations that are severe and restrictive enough that A) past work is not possible and B) switching to some type of other work is not possible.

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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