Will you be awarded disability in Florida if you are unable to return to your old job?

I see this mentioned now and then: the notion that you will be awarded Social Security Disability or SSI disability if you are unable to return to your old job. Is this correct? Not really.

There are two ways of being awarded disability benefits in Florida from the social security administration. The first way is for a disability adjudicator (depending on the level your claim is at, this will be either a disability examiner or a disability judge) to determine that the medical evidence in your file satisfies the approval criteria for a physical or mental condition that is listed in the Social Security Disability list of impairments.

Even in that case, of course, a claimant cannot be working and earning what is referred to as a substantial gainful income. The second way in which a claimant may be awarded SSD disability benefits or SSI disability benefits is for the adjudicator to decide that A) the claimant is unable to do their past work (its more technically correct to say their "past relevant work", specific jobs that have occurred in the last 15 years) and B) that the claimant is unable to perform other work.

To answer the question with which we started, however, it is incorrect to state that just because an individual cannot go back to their old job that they will get disability benefits. If their condition prevents them from engaging in their past work, its true that they might be approved for disability. But the "might" part is conditioned upon the determination that the claimant is, likewise, unable to transition to some type of other work for which their vocational profile might be considered suitable.

Now, for those who are curious, how does social security determine whether or not a person can go back to their past work? Simple. The decision-maker, or adjudicator makes an attempt to classify the jobs held by a claimant. This task begins with the work history information provided by the claimant. The adjudicator will take this information and try to match it to a job description contained in the DOT, the dictionary of occupational titles. Once the match is made, the adjudicator will be able to compare the work demands and job skills of the claimant's past work to their current level of functioning.

Obviously, if their current level of functionality is less than what their former jobs required, they will not be able to go back to their past work.

Hearing this brief description of how a claimant's work history is used in the disability determination process, though, should cause a light bulb go off. And that light bulb illustrates just how important it is for a person who has filed for disability to provide reliable and accurate information about the jobs they've held in the past. Because for the social security administration to properly classify a person's jobs (which can directly influence the outcome of a disability case), the adjudictor/decision-maker needs to know as much as possible, including job titles, how long a job was worked, what was done on the job, and what the individual's responsibilities were.

So, at the risk of sounding repetitive, always always always provide detailed information about your work history, in addition to detailed information about your medical history. Tip: after completing a work history questionaire for social security, make a photocopy to keep for your own records so you can accurately reproduce the information again, if it is requested.

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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