How to Qualify for Social Security Disability or SSI in Illinois

Ask anyone who has tried to qualify in Illinois for Social Security Disability (SSD) or SSI benefits, and you will undoubtedly get the same story: qualifying for benefits is difficult, and takes a long time. In addition, anyone trying to qualify for disability based on a medical condition not specifically listed in the Social Security Disability impairment manual, or 'blue book,' as it is commonly called, faces the additional hurdle of having to demonstrate, through medical records and prior work history, both the nature of their condition and that it is truly disabling.

Many commonly recognized ailments, such as depression, asthma, bipolar disorder, chronic back pain, fibromyalgia, etc., are not given their own listing in the blue book. However, it is possible to be approved for disability for these and just about any other medical condition, because the focus of disability determination is not so much on the condition itself, but on the level of disability which this condition causes the claimant.

The social security administration (SSA) bases its disability decisions on a claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC) report, which is a medical report that lists what activities a person is or is not capable of doing in light of their impairment. An RFC write up is generated by the disability examiner assigned to a case at disability determination services, the state agency that makes disability determinations for SSA. The disability examiner bases opinions presented in the RFC upon a claimant's medical records and work history, as well as the input of a physician assigned to his or her unit.

If your RFC supports your claim for disability, you will qualify for a medical vocational allowance, which is the most common way for disability applicants to qualify for benefits. A medical vocational allowance is awarded if it has been determined that you have a medically documented condition that is severe enough to prevent you from working at a former job or at some suitable form of other work for at least 12 months.

The concept of substantial gainful activity (SGA) also comes in to play when determining a medical vocational allowance. SGA is simply the maximum amount an individual may earn each month while still remaining eligible to receive disability benefits (for the current SGA amount, visit this page: How much can you make from work and still be allowed to apply for disability?).

So, when trying to decide if you qualify for social security payments, remember that having been diagnosed by a physician and subsequently treated for a medical condition is only one factor a disability examiner will consider. Far more important than your condition will be the determination of your residual functional capacity, or the extent to which your disability prevents you from making enough money to meet what social security deems to be substantial gainful activity.


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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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