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The Medical Vocational Allowance Approval for Social Security Disability and SSI cases

If you file for social security disability or SSI disability and are approved for benefits, the approval will happen in one of two ways.

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).

How does Social Security decide that a person will be granted a medical vocational allowance?

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.

Return to:  Social Security Disability Resource Center, or read answers to Questions

Related pages:

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?

Information on the following topics can be found here: Social Security Disability Questions and in these subsections:

Frequently asked questions about getting Denied for Disability Benefits | FAQ on Disability Claim Representation | Info about Social Security Disability Approvals and Being Approved | FAQ on Social Security Disability SSI decisions | The SSD SSI Decision Process and what gets taken into consideration | Disability hearings before Judges | Medical exams for disability claims | Applying for Disability in various states | Selecting and hiring Disability Lawyers | Applying for Disability in North Carolina | Recent articles and answers to questions about SSD and SSI

These pages answer some of the most basic questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim.

Filing for disability - How to file for SSD or SSI and the Information that is needed by Social Security
How to Apply for Disability - What medical conditions can you apply and qualify for?
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?
How to Prove you are disabled and qualify to win disability benefits
How do you prove your disability case if you have a mental condition or impairment?
Social Security Disability Back pay and How Long it Takes to Qualify for it and receive it
Social Security Disability SSI - Eligibility Requirements and Qualifications Criteria