How to file for disability, Filing for SSI
Disability Requirements, Disability Status
How long is the wait?, Disability Application
The Social Security List of Impairments
Qualifying for Disability, Mental Disability
Disability Lawyer Info, Disability Back Pay
The Medical Vocational Allowance Approval for Social Security Disability and SSI cases
If you have spoken to someone who has applied for disability, or have done some personal research, you may know that applicants can be approved for disability through something known as the Social Security list of impairments. However, this is not the only way. If you file for Social Security Disability or SSI disability, the approval can happen in one of two ways.
Note: the medical vocational allowance approval is how MOST claims are approved so you may wish to skip further down the page. The majority of individuals who have to go to a disability hearing and are granted a disability award are also approved in this way.
Meeting, or equaling, the requirements of a listing
Referred to as the blue book, or simply the listings, the Social Security list of impairments is a collection of medical impairments for which a person may be awarded disability benefits. The listings are divided by body system, such as cardiovascular, respiratory, musculoskeletal, etc, and are further divided into separate listings for adults and children.
Each listing (for example, depression) contains its own separate medical approval criteria. Being approved for disability for a listing is made on the strength of the medical records alone. It does not involve a review of a claimant's vocational work history.
Listing-level approvals are the less common way of being approved for disability benefits. Being awarded benefits on the basis of a listing-level impairment is somewhat difficult because the criteria for most listings is fairly specific; so specific, in fact, that a claimant's medical records will generally not provide the needed information. Added to this, of course, is the fact that many medical conditions are simply not included in the adult and childhood listings.
Disability examiners will typically review a claimant's medical records to determine if they have a listing-level medical condition, either physical or mental in nature. If a listing level condition is not identified (and this is usually the case) the examiner will employ a five step disability decision process known as sequential evaluation, which may result in something known as a medical vocational allowance.
Being approved on the basis of a Medical Vocational Allowance
A medical vocational allowance is granted when Social Security has reviewed both the claimant's medical records and their work history (for the 15 year period prior to becoming disabled) and come to the following conclusions:
1) The individual is not capable of returning to their past work. This includes their last job and potentially any other jobs they may have held in the last 15 years that were worked long enough for them to learn the requirements of the job.
2) The individual is not capable of doing some type of other work based on their job skills, their age, their education level, and their current level of functional capacity (residual functional capacityresidual functional capacity).
Looking for signs of disability in your medical records
Once it becomes clear to a disability examiner that a claimant will not satisfy the requirements of a disability listing, the examiner will review the medical records to look for signs of functional limitations that the claimant has.
These limitations may be physical, such as a reduced ability to walk, stand, or sit for more than a certain period of time. The limitation may be exertional such as a reduction in how much weight the person can lift or carry (Social Security uses classifications of exertional capacity such as sedentary, light, and medium). They may be non-exertional such as a reduced ability to reach overhead, bend at the waist, or bend at the knees. Other examples of physical limitations include a lessended ability to see, hear, speak, feel, or even smell.
Functional limitations may also be mental, such as an impaired ability to remember (there may be impairment in short or long term memory), pay attention, concentrate, learn new information, or interact with other people in a work setting such as supervisors or co-workers.
The limitations that a disability examiner idenfities after reviewing the claimant's medical records will be used to complete an RFC, or residual functional capacity, assessment. This is a precise listing of the individual's limitations (e.g. inability to lift more than 20 lbs occasionally, inability to sit for more than 2 hours, inability to tolerate dust or fumes, inability to maintain concentration).
The RFC assessment is compared to the work demands of the claimant's past work to determine if their current limitations will allow them to go back to one of their past jobs. If their limitations are not greater than what their past work required of them, they will be denied for disability on the basis of being able to return to their past work.
However, if their limitations are severe enough to rule out their ability to return to their past work, the disability examiner will have to determine if the claimant can transition to some form of other work. This decision takes into account the individual's job skills, how old they are, what their functional limitations are, and, to some extent, their level of education.
When a claimant is found to be incapable of doing their past work, and, further, is found incapable of doing other work, they will be approved for disability on the basis of a medical vocational allowance.
How do you improve the chances of getting a medical vocational allowance?
Supply detailed information regarding your medical treatment history so that the disability examiner does not run into difficulty obtaining your records. However, just as importantly, be very sure to include a detailed history of your work for the past 15 years.
Why is this so important? Because the disability examiner who works on your case will use the information you provide to locate your job in a reference source known as the DOT, or dictionary of occupational titles. The DOT lists tens of thousands of jobs, complete with the exertional requirements of each (sedentary, light, medium) as well as the skill levels involved for each job.
Properly identifying your job in the DOT will be heavily dependent on the information you supply regarding your work history at the time you file for disability.
For example, if you work history consists of being a truck driver, you should specify your work requirements and duties when you submit your work history so that, to use an example, you are not classified as a light truck diver when, in fact, you were a heavy truck driver, or a trailer-tractor operator. These jobs come with different exertional requirements and different skill levels which may certainly impact the outcome of your disability case.
It is for this reason that claimants are advised to write down their work history (and their medical history) before their disability application interview is conducted at a Social Security office.
What is the Social Security Disability SSI list of impairments?
Can you work while getting or applying for Disability?
How Often Does Social Security Approve Disability The First Time You Apply?
Tips for getting Social Security Disability or SSI benefits approved
What medical conditions will get you approved for disability?
What kind of Mental Problems Qualify for Disability?
Receiving a Disability Award Letter
Conditions Social Security will recognize as a disability
Previously answered questions regarding SSD and SSI
Applying for disability in your state
Most popular topics on SSDRC.com
Social Security Disability SSI Questions
The listings, list of disabling impairments
Can a mental illness qualify you for disability?
Disability Lawyers prevent unnecessary denials
How much Social Security Disability SSI back pay?
How to apply for disability for a child or children
Filing a Social Security Disability SSI application
Filing for disability - when to file
How to apply for disability - where to apply
Qualifications for disability benefits
How to Prove you are disabled and Win your Disability Benefits
Qualifying for Disability - The Process
How to get disability for depression
Getting disability for fibromyalgia
SSI disability for children with ADHD
What is the Application Process for Social Security Disability and SSI?
Common Mistakes to avoid after being denied for Disability
Social Security Disability SSI Exam tips
More Social Security Disability SSI Questions
Social Security Disability SSI definitions
What makes you eligible for Social Security Disability or SSI?
New and featured pages on SSDRC.com
Who can help me file for disability?
Social Security Disability, SSI, and Residual Functional Capacity, RFC
How does a Medical Source Statement (RFC Form) help win a Social Security Disability or SSI Claim?
How does Social Security Disability decide that you cannot work?
Social Security Disability SSI - Mental and Physical Residual Functional Capacity
Medical Vocational Allowance Approvals for Social Security Disability and SSI
Social Security Disability Medical Evaluation Form, Can A Doctor Be Forced to Complete One?
The Social Security Disability Decision and Your Ability to Work
Will my doctor charge me for a letter for my Social Security Disability claim?
These pages answer some of the most basic questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim.
Can you get temporary Social Security Disability or SSI benefits?
Permanent Social Security Disability
What is the difference between Social Security Disability and SSI?
Who is eligible for SSI disability?
Can I Be Eligible For SSI And Social Security Disability At The Same Time?
What makes a person eligible to receive disability benefits?
Applying for Disability - How long does it take to get Social Security Disability or SSI benefits?
What happens if I file a disability application and it is denied by a disability examiner or Judge?
For the sake of clarity, SSDRC.com is not the Social Security Administration, nor is it associated or affiliated with SSA. This site is a personal, private website that is published, edited, and maintained by former caseworker and former disability claims examiner, Tim Moore, who was interviewed by the New York Times on the topic of Social Security Disability and SSI benefits in an article entitled "The Disability Mess" and also by the Los Angeles Times on the subject of political attempts to weaken the Social Security Disability system.
The goal of the site is to provide information about how Social Security Disability and SSI work, the idea being that qualified information may help claimants pursue their claims and appeals, potentially avoiding time-consuming mistakes. If you find the information on this site helpful and believe it would be helpful to others, feel free to share links to its homepage or other pages on website resource pages, blogs, or social media. Copying of this material, however, is prohibited.
To learn more about the author, please visit the SSDRC.com homepage and view the "about this site" link near the bottom of the page.