Many hardworking people find themselves in a position where they can no longer work because of their physical or mental impairments. The problem is that there is no money coming in the door to pay for trips to the doctor and other bills. What to do? Filing for Social Security Disability benefits is one option. Essentially, receiving disability benefits is taking from your Social Security retirement benefits earlier than retirement age because you can no longer work.

There are 2 types of benefits: Social Security Disability (S.S.D. or S.S.D.I.) benefits, and Supplemental Security Income (S.S.I.) benefits.

To qualify for either type of benefit, a person must get through Social Security’s 5-step process. These steps are:

1. A person must not be working above the substantial gainful activity level (currently 1,000 per month);
2. A person must have a severe, medically determinable impairment;
3. A person may or may not meet a Listed Impairment;
4. A person cannot do any of their past work;
5. A person cannot do any other work.

With regard to Step 1, a person may continue to work and also receive disability benefits if their earnings are less than $1,000 per month.  However, if you are currently working and making more than $1,000 per month, Social Security will absolutely not even consider your medical impairments. You must get past this “money” step first. Further, if your income and assets are over $2,000 per month, you are not eligible for S.S.I. (if a single person; for married couples the limit is $3,000 per month).

At Step 2, a “severe, medically determinable impairment” is a condition that is shown by medical evidence, like lab tests, X-rays or MRI’s, or by your doctor’s diagnosis. It must interfere with your daily life to be considered “severe.”

At Step 3, Social Security has several Listed Impairments. These exist for all the body systems and for mental impairments. These are specific, outlined conditions, and they are typically very severe. If you meet one of the “Listings,” you are automatically found disabled and the process doesn’t go any further. If you don’t meet one of the “Listings,” that is all right – the process goes on to Step 4.

At Step 4, what your former jobs were in the 15 years before you say your disability started becomes important. Social Security looks at the types of job duties you performed at your old work and determines whether you can still do your old work. If you can, you will be found “not disabled.” If you cannot perform your past work, Social Security will determine whether you can do any other work (Step 5).

Most people’s claims end up at Step 5. Social Security will very often find that a person can do other jobs, even if you have never had any training for that job, or even if that job does not exist near you. The question is whether a hypothetical person with your limitations could do any job anywhere. Social Security does not take into consideration your local job market, which is, in my opinion, an unfair rule, but it is a rule nonetheless.

Usually a statement from your doctor about your limitations will significantly help you to pass this step.  Social Security will send you to see their doctors to assess your limitations, which are usually not in your favor. Therefore, the statement from your doctor is very important to helping you win your case.

If you are at the hearing level, a vocational expert (V.E.) is used by Social Security at Steps 4 and 5 to give testimony as to the jobs a person with your limitations could still perform.  The judge typically asks the V.E. questions based on your statement of limitations and if your doctor gave a statement, your doctor’s limitations, and what jobs a person with those limitations could still perform. The answer you want to hear from the V.E. is, of course, “no jobs.”

After your hearing, the judge will typically issue a decision in 4-6 weeks. If you win, it can take a month or two after that for Social Security to figure out how much they are going to pay you. If you lose, you may appeal to the Appeals Council, re-apply, or do both (in most situations).

If you have been denied by Social Security and wish to appeal, please call our office for a free consultation.


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