The Social Security Disability Decision and Your Ability to Work

If you're thinking about applying for SSD benefits, you're probably wondering if you meet the requirements to receive disability income, and just how social security determines who is truly disabled and will be approved for Social Security Disability benefits, and who is still capable of working, and thus will be denied.

To be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits, a claimant must be both unable to perform any jobs held in the past 15 years, and unable to perform any other job based on claimant's age, education and limitations, due to the stated medical condition.

After an application for disability is filed, it is sent to the state agency in charge of making disability determinations for social security. Some common names for this agency are the bureau for disability determination services, disability determination division/services, etc., depending upon the state.

A social security examiner will then be assigned, and will determine if the claimant is capable of working after evaluating the medical records. Medical records are evaluated to see to how a claimant's condition limits him or her, physically and/or mentally, and to what extent this limitation affects the claimant's ability to work. The examiner will then generate a residual functional capacity form (RFC) detailing the examiner's residual functional capacity assessment, including what activities a claimant is still able to perform; i.e., what work he or she could do despite the existing medical condition.

An RFC is valid only after it is signed by a medical doctor (M.D.) or psychologist (Ph.D.) who is assigned to the disability examiner's unit. Separate RFCs are generated for physical and mental limitations, although a claimant may have both physical and mental RFCs, depending on their condition.

In short, the disability medical examiner uses medical records to determine residual functional capacity (a claimant's ability to work), and then writes an assessment, which must be signed by a doctor (or psychologist, if applicable). Based on the RFC assessment, it is determined if a person has the capacity to work, and if the claimant will be denied or awarded disability benefits.

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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