Social Security Disability, SSI, and Whether or Not a Person can Still Work
At the time of applying for disability, and often during the evaluation of the claim, the social security administration will inquire into the claimant's past work history. When this is done, SSA will be most concerned with jobs that it considers to be relevant. "Relevant" simply refers to jobs that were performed by the claimant in the fifteen year period prior to becoming disabled.
To be relevant and part of the consideration process, the job, however, must also be one in which the claimant was able to earn a substantial income and also one in which the claimant was able to learn the skills involved in doing the job (therefore, jobs worked for only a short period would not usually be considered relevant).
Once all the claimant's relevant past work is identified, the disability examiner will look up each job in a resource known as the Dictionary of Occupation Titles to learn what each job required. This would include both their physical and mental requirements. This information is then compared to the claimant's current functional limitations to see if the claimant still has the ability to return to one of their past jobs.
If the claimant's current limitations (as rated on physical and/or mental RFC forms by the disability examiner and the doctors with whom he works) are too restrictive, he will be judged to be incapable of doing his past work. However, the disability process does not end there.
Using information found in identifying the claimant's jobs in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, the disability examiner will be able to determine what job skills the claimant is expected to possess. This will allow the disability examiner to determine whether or not the claimant may have the ability to do some type of other work that they have not previously done.
Fortunately, for disability claimants, the decision that is made regarding their ability (or inability) to do some type of other work is not based solely on their work skills. It is also based on the claimant's age and how severe their condition is (reflected in their RFC assessments), as well as their level of education.
Claimants who are judged to be incapable of going back to a former job, and also incapable of switching to some type of other work will be awarded disability benefits. But it should be apparent to most claimants after reading this page that the decision on the disability application may be affected by how accurately the social security administration identifies their past jobs.
For this reason, it can be crucial for a claimant to provide accurate job titles, as well as full and detailed descriptions of the work performed on each job...to ensure that the job is properly identified in the DOT, or dictionary of occupational titles.
Improper identification of past jobs can lead a disability examiner or an administrative law judge to conclude that the claimant can go back to a former job that they no longer have the ability to adequately perform, or use skills that they do not actually have to take on some new type of employment.
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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