January 16, 2015

I Can’t Work a Full Time Job; Can I Get Social Security Disability?

Many people think of a “disabling condition” as one that prevents a person from performing the physical requirements of a job, such as lifting a certain amount of weight or being able to stand at a work station.  However, many of my clients suffer from impairments that, rather than affecting their physical strength, prevent them from being able to work a full eight hour day or make it in to work every day of the work week.  For example, some of my clients deal with debilitating fatigue; they can perform all the aspects of a job for a few hours but then are too exhausted to continue.  Others suffer from episodic illnesses in which they might be fully functional for a few days or even a few weeks at a time, but they have frequent flares of their symptoms that completely debilitate them for days.  Some of these clients are able to hold down a part-time job but would never be able to work a forty-hour workweek.

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If you have a severe medical impairment that prevents you from working a full-time job, you may be entitled to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.  It is important to remember, though, that Social Security has rules about how much you can earn while working part time.  If your monthly earnings are higher than their rules allow, Social Security will automatically find that you are not disabled.  Social Security calls this cutoff “Substantial Gainful Activity” (SGA); in 2015, if you make more than $1,090.00 per month gross (before taxes are taken out) your earnings are above SGA.  If you are statutorily blind, the income threshold is quite a bit higher; you can make up to $1,820 before you exceed the SGA level.  If you are working part-time and your earnings fall below SGA, though, Social Security can find that you are disabled if your medical conditions and the resulting limitations meet the rest of its requirements.

When an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) is trying to determine whether a claimant’s impairments are disabling under Social Security’s rules, he or she often obtains testimony from a Vocational Expert (VE).  The VE is able to explain to the judge whether a person with certain physical and mental limitations has the ability to obtain, perform, and maintain competitive employment.  Under Social Security’s rules, a claimant who can perform some but not all of a job’s duties, or who can perform all of a job’s duties only some of the time, is still disabled.  In order to find a claimant not disabled, the ALJ must find that he or she is able to perform full-time work (a forty-hour work week or equivalent) on a sustained basis.  A VE will almost always testify that a person who is unable to work a full eight-hour day will not be able to maintain employment in the competitive workplace.  Further, many VEs will testify that a person who regularly misses two or more work days per month would not be able to keep his or her job.

It is important to remember you must be able to show that you have a severe medical impairment that prevents you from working.  Appropriate medical testing, imaging, and doctor’s records are necessary evidence to prove the diagnoses and symptoms that cause your limitations.  I find it helpful to obtain a statement from your treating physician explaining that your condition prevents you from working an eight-hour day or would cause you to miss work consistently.  Being able to show that your doctor agrees that your medical condition causes your alleged limitations can greatly enhance your chances of winning your disability appeal before the Social Security Administration.

In my Indiana disability practice I represent clients suffering from various mental and physical disorders.  If you are unable to work because of a disabling condition, it may be in your best interest to consult an attorney or representative to discuss your claim.

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