If you are denied for disability, is this based on your ability to do your past work?

The evaluation of Past work is a significant part of the decision process used by the social security administration for determining SSDI (Social Security Disability insurance) and SSI (supplemental security income) disability claims.

Past work is, obviously, any work that was previously done by a person. However, for SSA purposes, the only past work that is considered (for the purpose of determining a claim) is relevant past work. What is "relevant" past work? This is any work that meets the following criteria:

A) Was performed by a person in the fifteen year period (known as the relelvant period) prior to filing for disability.

B) Was performed for at least three months.

C) Was performed by the individual long enough for them to learn the requirements of the job.

D) Was performed by the individual while they were earning a substantial and gainful wage (this is known as SGA, or substantial gainful activity).

Not all of the jobs worked by a person throughout the course of their work history will be looked at by the social security administration; however, since the relevant period is 15 years long, this means that most jobs, and usually the individual's most important jobs, will be reviewed.

How does relevant past work actually figure into the disability determination process? Past work is one of the steps of the sequential evaluation process. Essentially, a person who files for disability and gets approved can win their approval in one of two different ways: satisfying a listing or passing the five-step sequential evaluation process.

1. Meeting or Equaling a listing: In this approval method, the applicant's condition, or at least one of their conditions (many applicants have several physical or mental impairments when they apply for disability), must satisfy the requirements of a listing in something known as the blue book. The blue book is the impairment listing manual, a.k.a. the Social Security Disability list of impairments.

The manual lists many (though certainly not all) physical and mental impairments and very specific disability criteria that, if satisfied by the information in a person's medical records, may result in a disability award.

Most applicants are not approved on the basis of meeting or equaling the requirements of a listing in the blue book because the listing requirements can be very specific and, thus, difficult to meet.

In actuality, most individuals who are approved for SSDI or are approved for SSI benefits are awarded on the basis of something known as a medical vocational allowance. A Medical Vocational Allowance is a disability award that is made after the sequential evaluation process has been used to to determine the person's eligibility.

2. Sequential Evaluation - Under sequential evaluation, the disability examiner or the disability judge (depending on the level of the claim) will review the claimant's medical history and work history and will use the information from each to arrive at a final determination that leads to an approval or a denial of the claim. Under sequential evaluation, the applicant's case goes through a five-step checklist:

continued at: How does Social Security Decide if I am Disabled?

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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