In general Social Security Disability benefits are reserved for workers with a physical or mental condition, who are unable to perform full time work for at least 12 months. However, for those who have never worked, or worked very little, Supplemental Security Income disability is available from Social Security under the same definition of disability - unable to perform full time work for 12 months. Jet toyLet's do a little "fly over" of Social Security's method of determining disability, so you can figure out if your condition, and the way it impaires you, are covered.

I have a medical condition, and it does get in the way and make it harder for me to work - would I qualify?

The answer is to be found in the concrete reality of your symptoms, the degree to which those symptoms intrude on your day to day activity, and the degree to which your daily reality is or is not reflected in medical documentation.  From Social Security's perspective if your complaints of pain or limitation are not refected in ongoing treament records from your physician, then they are reluctant to award cash benfits simply on your say so. It is more likely that your compiants would be seen as an exageration, or at least unfounded, if not "backed up" by the history and symptoms recorded at the time of your medical visits and exams. From time to time, when a severe condition is not reflected in medical documentation, an exam by Social Security's consulting physician can result in an award of benefits. However, if ongoing treatment records are lacking, it is usually very hard to show that your condition and your symptoms are actually preventing you from working. 

The law defines a covered disability as an inability to engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA) due to certain medically determinable physical or mental impairments which can be expected to result in death or which have lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months. To collect benefits under the Social Security Disability program, you must meet certain requirements.

Social Security Disability laws cover physical and mental disabilities

Physical disabilities include:

  • Asthma
  • Diabetes
  • Herniated disks
  • Other lumbar and cervical (back and neck) problems

In addition, disabilities include:
  • Arthritis
  • Heart problems
  • Spine problems
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Sleep apnea
  • AIDS
  • Cancer
  • Hepatitis
  • Cirrhosis and other liver conditions
  • Brain injuries
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Lupus
  • Repetitive stress disorders
  • Hearing loss

Mental disabilities included psychiatric disabilities, including but not limited to:
  • Anxiety
  • Agoraphobia
  • Panic attacks
  • Depression 
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorders
  • Mental retardation

There is a Listing of Impairments applicable to evaluation of claims for disability benefits under the Social Security Disability insurance program. The Listing of Impairments describes, for each major body system, the medical findings and testing that establish clearly that a person's impairments are severe enough to prevent an individual from engaging in any gainful activity. 

Even if your medical documentation does not show a finding or a test result showing the degree of severity set forth in the Listing of Impairments, Social Security can still determine that your are unable to work by reason of your medical condition by determining that your symptoms and limitations prevent you from performing the demands of your old job, and also that they would prevent you from performing other jobs. Sometimes, for instance, a worker has been performing a job at a medium level of exertion, but now has hurt their back and can no longer perform at that level, where lifting 25 pounds frequently is required. What jobs are at a "medium" level of exercion? Capenter, factory helper, home attendant - these jobs require lifting at 25 pounds. When no longer able to meet the demands of these jobs, Social Security will look to the demands of other jobs where lifting 25 pounds is not required. If it looks like you are able to do the easier job, even at less pay, Social Security can make a finding of not disabled. Social Security uses a pretty old guidebook for looking at jobs and the physical demands and skill level of jobs. In a way the analysis is somewhat arbitrary and artificial - such as when Social Security determines that even though you can no longer do your old job, you are not disabled because you can an easier job such as surveillance-system monitor or even elevator operator, regardless of whether those jobs still exist.  So in order to win disability benefits you would need to show that you were also unable to perform other, easier job in the economy, even if they pay less than your old job. As we sometimes say "It's not so easy!"

Often, the condition that prevents you from doing your old job, also prevents you from doing other jobs in the economy. Social Security's rules for determining disability also address the ways in which age (older) and education (less) can limit the availablity of those other, easier jobs, so that for those over 50, sometimes it is sufficient to show that you can no longer do your old job.  

Yes, it's complicated. 

Are You Looking for a Social Security Disability Attorney in Natick, MA?

If you are looking to apply for social security disability, you need to speak with an experienced social security disability lawyer as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Natick Office directly at 508.283.5500 to schedule your free consultation.

John L. Keefe
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Founding Attorney, Massachusetts Social Security Disability Lawyer