Disability benefits are one of the most important and valuable benefits available through the social security system. Unfortunately, qualifying for these benefits is extremely difficult and the approval process is quite complicated and often requires the assistance of an attorney who specializes in social security disability claims.
If you are considering applying for disability benefits you should not approach this task in a haphazard fashion. There is actually a 5 step approval process that social security follows. It is a sequential process that is dependent on completing each step in order. Knowing how to maneuver through this process will greatly increase your chances of getting approved.
Step #1: Determining if you are working at Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA). If you are not currently working you can move to step #2. If you are working and earn more than $1090 (in 2015) then you will not qualify for disability benefits.
Step #2: Do you have a medical condition that is severe or a combination of conditions that are severe? Social security will determine your condition or combination of conditions to be severe if "they significantly limit your ability to do basic work activities". You will need to gather all your medical records and submit them to social security so they can make their determination.
Step #3: Determining whether your medical condition, or combination of conditions, "meets or medically equals" the criteria of an impairment. Social security has a list of impairments that they call "the listings". If you can prove that you have one of the medical conditions at the level described in the listings then you will be deemed to be disabled. If not, you will have to move to step #4.
Step #4: Determining your "residual functional capacity (RFC)" and whether you have the RFC to do your "past relevant work". Basically, social security must figure out your ability to do physical and mental work activities on a sustained basis. If you are found capable of returning to past relevant work you will be denied and not found to be disabled. Otherwise you will proceed to the final step.
Step #5: Determining if you can do any other work, considering your RFC, age, education and work experience. If social security finds that you cannot do any other work, and your condition is expected to last 12 months or more, then you will qualify for benefits.
To be certain, especially given the history of fraudulent cases in the system, qualifying for social security disability benefits is an extremely difficult and arduous process. Most claims are declined on the first application and the approval process can literally take years.
It is often beneficial, if not necessary, to seek the assistance of an attorney who specializes in social security disability claims. Hiring an experienced attorney who understands the system and can fully and properly prepare your application may be an investment worth making.
Social security disability benefits can be an invaluable benefit for those in need and, in some cases, provides the necessary lifeline to keep the disabled from becoming impoverished. These benefits were put in place to help those in need but, like most governmental programs, it remains your responsibility to make sure you don't become a victim of the bureaucracy when you would otherwise qualify for benefits.
Ash Ahluwalia, NSSA, CCSCA, MBA