Social Security disability concerns itself with one main issue – does your medical or mental health condition prevent you from working. While the medical issues in a case are important, Social Security is mainly concerned about how those medical issues prevent you from working.
As I ask my clients, would you be able to reliably perform a simple, entry-level job that allows:
- a sit/stand option
- little or no interaction with the public, co-workers or supervisors
- simple, repetitive tasks
With a few exceptions (i.e., the grid rules) if the judge decides that you can perform one of these simple “warm body” jobs, you will not win. If the judge concludes that you could not perform the duties of one of these simple jobs, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, you win.
Here are the arguments that I can use in every case. Sometimes only one argument applies, while in other situations I may use all 3:
Argument 1: do you meet a “listing?” Social Security’s listings are detailed descriptions of medical conditions that are severe enough to produce the assumption if you are so afflicted, you would not be a reliable worker. When you review the listings, you will see that Social Security has divided the listing level medical conditions into 14 “body systems.” Each of these listings describe a very serious medical problem 1.
Social Security intentionally makes it difficult to meet or equal a listing. In theory, listing level cases should be identified early for quick approval and processing but it does not always work that way. If your medical records do not contain language that tracks the language of a particular listing, the adjudicator evaluating your case may not approve it, and you will end up at a hearing.
Further, there are not listings for many common, but serious medical conditions. There is, for example, no listing for fibromyalgia. Most listings describe medical conditions that can be identified by objective testing like MRIs or even x-rays.
Argument 2: if you do not meet a listing, can we prove that your “functional capacity” for work has been so eroded by your medical condition(s) that you would not be able to perform the duties of even a simple, entry-level job?
Most of the cases I take to hearing involve this argument. When addressing the reliability issue, I consider such things as:
- pain and the impact it has on your ability to maintain attention and concentration
- medication side effects
- likelihood that you will miss excessive time from work in the form of too many unscheduled breaks or unexcused absences
- excessive bathroom breaks
- emotional instability
This functional capacity argument works well in cases where my client has multiple medical problems – no one of these problems may be disabling, but taken as a whole, they are
Argument 3: do you qualify under one of the “grid rules” based on your age, educational level and past work skills?
I discuss the grid rules in detail elsewhere on this web site, but what you should keep in mind big picture is:
- the grid rules only apply if you have a physical impairment that limits your physical capacities – if your impairment relates to mental health or you are claiming that severe pain impacts your ability to concentrate, the grid rules will not help you
- the grid rules will not help you unless you are 50 years old or older
- the grid rules are designed to help people with minimal education and an unskilled work background