Understanding what “Disabled from Working” Means for Purposes of your Social Security Case

Whether you are considering applying for the first time for Social Security disability, or you’ve reached the stage of preparing for an Administrative Law Judge hearing, a clear understanding of what it means to be “disabled” under Social Security’s rules is critical.  Social Security disability benefits are meant to assist those that remain totally disabled from all forms of gainful employment  for what is expected to be a year long long or has been a year or longer.    Many claimants approach our office failing to understand what needs to be proven, and with this misunderstanding, may apply prematurely or when it does not make sense, or may be proceeding to hearing failing to understand what issues will be of concern to the judge who will be hearing their case.

When we prepare our clients for hearing, we always make clear that proving one is “disabled” from working a job does not equate with being unable to do anything.   There is a reason why disability benefits are referred to as “disability benefits, as opposed to “inability” benefits.  Everyone one can do something, and may in fact be capable of performing a variety of work functions.  The question, however, when pursuing a Social Security disability claim is whether one is performing meaningful work activities in a competitive work environment: that means, as called upon by an employer to do so throughout an 8 hour workday, 5 days per week.  Thus, the issue becomes whether one has a sufficiently “consistent” day and sufficiently “consistent” days so as to be counted on by an employer to perform these work activities on a regular and continuing basis.  At a minimum, every job, however easy it might be, requires one to show up at a given time, stay for 8 hours per day, not come in late, leave early or call out on any regular basis.  Simply calling out 2 or more days per month would create a problem with one’s employer.  Likewise, one cannot recline or lie down during the course of the day: postures at a work site are limited to sitting, standing or walking, or some combination of the three.   Moreover, the Social Security disability eligibility requirements require a showing that one remain incapable of not only performing their past relevant work (that is to say, any of the jobs performed during the 15 year period prior to becoming disabled), but any other jobs for which they are reasonably suited by age, education and experience for what has been a year or longer.  Assuming one is capable of returning to work prior to the actual hearing does not mean that one is not entitled to a period of disability benefits for the period of time they were out of work.  Likewise, the Social Security regulations provide for what is called a trial work period, where one can test their ability to work and still receive a check, so long as they were out of work long enough to meet the duration requirement to qualify.  Simply attempting to return to work will not necessarily harm a Social Security disability claim: in many cases, it will actually help the claim by showing that the disabled individual has every hope of returning to work just as soon as their medical condition allows.   Assuming one is not earning what is deemed to be Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) the work may have no impact whatsoever.  However, even assuming one does earn SGA level earnings, if one does ultimately have to go back out of work as a result of their disabling condition, this may cause that period of work to be deemed an Unsuccessful Work Attempt: assuming this turns out to be the case, the work performed and earned would have no effect whatsoever one one’s potential entitlement to a Social Security disability award of benefits .

Therefore, contacting a knowledgeable Social Security lawyer who understands the intricacies of the Social Security rules and regulations, and who can apply them to the facts of your circumstances is important right up front.