Strengthening your disability case by providing the details of your work history

Tip 8:

I have pointed out many times the fact that most claimants understand the importance of their medical records in reaching a determination on their disability claim, yet simultaneously very few claimants understand the true importance of the information contained in their work history. The details and information about your work history (the jobs you've done, how long you did them ,and what you did on your job) will determine how your past work is classified.

What do we mean by this? Simply that the disability examiner working on your case will attempt to match the work history information that you have provided with jobs that are listed in a reference known as the dictionary of occupational titles, or DOT.

Getting a correct match is extremely important. Matching the job that you have described with the job that is listed in the DOT is not just a matter of matching up the same or similar job titles. It is a matter of matching the right jobs based on work skills, exertional requirements, and job duties performed.

And that is crucial because if you do not meet a listing (in the Social Security list of impairments -- see definition below under "terms discussed"), but your condition is severe enough to have lasted a year and has kept you from engaging in substantial work activity, then the next consideration will be whether or not your current limitations prevent you from going back to your last job or one of the other jobs you did in the past 15 years.

As you can see, a direct comparison will be made between what you are capable of doing right now based on your medical records, and what your past jobs required of you both physically and mentally. So getting the correct match of your job is not just important to your case, it is absolutely crucial.

But the disability examiner working on your claim can only work with the information that you provide, meaning, in this case, a complete and detailed description about what you did on your job, or any of your past jobs (because to turn you down for disability benefits, Social Security only has to find that one of the jobs you worked in the last 15 years is one that you are still capable of going back to).

What do we mean when we say a "complete and detailed description" regarding your work history? This is what we mean: you need to provide the titles of your jobs. You need to indicate at what points in time you performed each job. For each job that you worked, you need to list what your rate of pay was. You also need to list the number of hours you normally worked.

Why does Social Security need to know about your rate of pay and the number of hours that you worked? Because a job will not be counted as part of your past relevant work history if, during the time you held the job, you did not earn what Social Security considers a substantial and gainful income (and that is based on earning a certain minimum amount per month).

It would also be wise when listing your various past jobs to give a description of the exertional requirements of each job. Therefore, you should note the heaviest amount of weight that you would have had to lift or carry in performing the duties of the job.

Why is this important? Because Social Security classifies jobs by exertional categories, such as sedentary, light, medium, heavy, and very heavy. Social Security also classifies your ability to engage in work by whether or not you fit into a sedentary, light, medium, heavy, or very heavy medical vocational profile.

For example, if during the last 15 years all of your jobs have been medium exertion, but after reviewing the medical evidence it is determined that you were only capable of doing light work, then it may be possible that you will be approved for disability, though this will also depend on other factors such as your age, education, and job skills.

And, of course, just as it is important to indicate how much weight you may have had to lift or carry on a particular job, it is equally important to indicate how long you would have been required to sit, stand, or walk in a typical workday while performing that job.

Terms discussed:

  • What does social security mean by past work?
  • What does social security mean by other work?
  • What is the Social Security Disability List of Impairments?
  • How are medical records and work history used to determine a Social Security Disability claim?

    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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