May 15, 2019

Why Does Social Security Disability Care About My Past Jobs?

Many of my
clients applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) wonder why I ask them about jobs they have
performed in the past.  In claims for disability
benefits, Social Security evaluates whether they believe you can return to jobs
you held in the past. They look at the last 15 years of your employment
history. As you can imagine, it may be easier to return to work at a call center
as opposed to a heavy construction job. 
In this blog, I will briefly explain how this process works.

During the
Social Security claims process, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will
examine your past work to see if you can return to that work with the medical
impairments you are experiencing.  At the
initial stages, a disability examiner will look at your job titles along with the
physical and mental demand levels of your past employment.  If the disability examiner determines you can
do your past work, your claim will be denied. 
If you cannot perform your past relevant work, the SSA will also
determine whether you acquired transferable skills to perform a job with lower
exertional requirements.  If they determine
there are jobs you can perform with your transferable skills, your claim will
also be denied.  Many of my clients are
denied for these reasons. This is something you can appeal, and it is usually
in your best interest to do so. 

After
appealing a disability denial, you may find yourself at an Administrative Law
Judge (ALJ) hearing.  There will be a Vocational
Expert (VE) at the hearing to testify about the demands of your previous
employment and occupations in the labor force that can be performed with certain
physical and/or mental restrictions.  This
is where your attorney or representative can help the ALJ or VE better
understand how your limitations caused by your medical conditions would prevent
you from performing your previous employment. 

At your hearing,
it is important to outline the demands at your previous employment, such as how
much you had to lift, walk, stand, and sit. It is also important to point out
the mental requirements as to whether your past work was unskilled, semi-skilled,
or skilled.  In other words, did you perform
simple and repetitive work tasks or did your job require highly specialized
skills and knowledge to complete your duties?  

This part of the claims and hearing process is probably the most confusing to my clients.  Many of the terms used by the SSA can be difficult to understand to a person not familiar to the disability process.  Prior to the disability hearing, I prepare my clients as to what all of this means to an average person in relation to a disability claim. I find that knowing why the SSA discusses your past work, in addition to other issues, can remove some of the anxiety surrounding your disability claim.  Your attorney or representative should know the specific rules that can help or hurt your case.  If you do not have a lawyer at your Social Security disability hearing, you should ask the ALJ to explain what all of this means and how it applies to you.

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