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Social Security Disability

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What work history is relevant when applying for disability?

Previously in this space, we have touched on the various requirements necessary to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income. Both these federal programs, as administered by the states, serve as a safety net of sorts for those people who cannot earn an income because some physical or psychological handicap prevents them from being gainfully employed. As we have said in the past, this means that the person who is applying needs to show that he or she is unable to work due to a disabling condition, and that the condition is terminal, or has lasted or is expected to last longer than one year. But how does the Social Security Agency go about determining which jobs a person needs to show he or she cannot perform?

The most basic answer is that the SSA looks at a person’s work history. The agency, in general, takes into account the person’s employment over a period of the previous 15 years as relevant to this inquiry. In other words, a large factor in determining your ability to work is what work you have done previously. So, for example, a person who has lost a leg may not be able to meet the qualifications as a construction worker, due to the physical demands of the job. However, if that person had been employed mainly as an accountant in the past, the agency might find that he or she could continue in that position after the accident. This means that SSA will not only look at what specific type of work you have done, but what skills you have acquired, and how those abilities would transfer to a different sort of employment that might be less affected by that person’s disability. Taking our construction worker hypothetical above, if the amputee had been a foreman managing a large crew of workers, it might be the case that he could use those same skills as a manager in a setting requiring a less physically rigorous regimen.

While many of us have had a number of different jobs in the past 15 years, it is important to remember that they often involve the same skills. Most of us try to do what we’re good at, so we tend to stay in the same types of positions. Whether beginning the process of filing for disability, or preparing for a hearing before an administrative law judge, it may be helpful to receive advice from an experienced professional who knows how the agency tends to think about these kinds of requirements, and can therefore present an argument as to why finding a different profession is not feasible.

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