For people in Illinois and Indiana, Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) is often viewed as a last resort when they are injured, ill or suffer from conditions that leave them unable to work and in need of income integrity and medical care. Hard-working people can find themselves incapable of doing the work they did before. SSDI can help.
Part of SSA’s process in deciding if you are disabled is looking at your vocational background. It is important to know how this factors in when seeking benefits.
The sequential evaluation process and past relevant work
The Social Security Administration goes through a five-step evaluation process in deciding if benefits can be approved. First, there will be an assessment to see if you are engaged in substantial gainful activity (working) based on how much you earn per month. If it is below a certain level, $1310 gross for 2021, it’s not a bar to being found disabled. Next, your medical impairments are considered. Those who are found severely impaired for at least a year (retroactively or prospectively) can move to step three. Step Three compares your impairment to a list of conditions that are per se disabling. Step Four is consideration of your residual functional capacity – does it permit, in theory, performance of your past relevant work? There is a fifth and final step regarding adjustment to other work, but reaching this step hinges on the past relevant work assessment.
Past relevant work is the work you did in the previous 15 years, at an earnings level that met the threshold for SGA for those years and was done long enough to learn the job. As SSA considers your ability to perform past relevant work, there may be expert opinions, witnesses and resources used to assist the agency. A person found able to do past relevant work will be denied benefits.
If you cannot do your past work, your education, age, work experience and sufficiency of jobs at your capacity in the economy will be considered as well. Those who cannot do the same job they did before might be found capable of doing other work.
Having guidance can assuage fears and help with getting SSDI
Although this may sound intimidating, there are people who have worked at physical jobs for their entire lives such as construction, maintenance, jobs in which standing and walking all day and heavy lifting was required. Any physical impairment that warrants them getting through the first three steps of the evaluation process might also allow them to continue past Steps Four and Five and receive SSDI. And people who have worked at jobs that do not require physical exertion who can no longer perform those jobs because of, for example, vision problems, pain, cognitive limitations, mental health problems, can also get through Steps Four and Five and receive SSDI.
Before needlessly worrying or abandoning SSDI, especially if you have applied and been denied benefits, it is wise to understand the entire process – what you need to show and how to do it.
Whether it is a physical impairment, a mental impairment or a combination, having guidance throughout the process is vital. Discussing the case with those who understand the ins and outs can be imperative from the start or at any point along the way – whether you are just thinking about applying for benefits or whether you have been denied once, twice, or three times!