Social Security Disability and Past Work
Before I define the concept, let me point out the two ways an individual can be approved for social security disability or SSI benefits.
The first way is by meeting or equaling the requirements of a listing. What is a listing? A listing is any physical or mental condition that appears in the SSA impairment manual, referred to as the Blue book. The blue book contains a great many impairments for which the approval criteria for disability benefits are, for lack of a more appropriate word, listed.
Some of those impairments are asthma, heart failure, and seizure disorder. However, many common problems such as fibromyalgia are not given a listing (the mere fact that FMS is a syndrome, of course, prevents this). And established conditions that affect a smaller number of individuals such as behcet's disease are not included either.
Also, some very common conditions such as bipolar disorder and arthritis are not given specific listings. Bipolar disorder, for example, is included as a subset of the affective disorders listing and arthritis is given consideration within the musculoskeletal listings.
Obviously, not all medical conditions are listed in the "listing book". How do you get approved for disability if you do not satisfy the requirements of a listing? By getting a medical vocational allowance, as defined on this page:medical vocational approval.
Past work comes into play when it becomes clear to a disability examiner or judge that a claimant will not meet, or equal, the requirements of a listing in the listing manual. How? The examiner or judge will review the claimant's medical records and after this review will determine the claimant's residual functional capacity. This is basically what the claimant is still capable of doing even with the effects of their condition or conditions.
After the RFC has been determined (for example, a claimant may be limited to light work, sedentary work, or medium work, or any one of those classifications but with additional restrictions such as no overhead reaching ), the examiner or judge will look at the claimant's past work and decide whether or not---given the claimant's current limitations, i.e. residual functional capacity---the claimant is capable of returning to their past work.
Obviously, to make this determination, the disability examiner or disability judge will need to know what types of jobs the claimant did in the past. And even more importantly, the adjudicators will need to know what the claimant did in their past jobs so these jobs can be classified and a comparison can be made between the demands of these jobs and what the claimant is currently capable of doing.
When past work is considered, of particular importance will be any jobs that were performed within the last 15 years. This is known as the relevant period. Moreover, disability examiners (who make decisions on initial claims and reconsiderations, but not at hearings which are conducted by administrative law judges) will be more likely to consider jobs that were performed for a year or longer versus only a few weeks.
Past work is a central facet of the social security disability process. Therefore, to receive proper consideration, it is very important for a disability claimant to supply a full and detailed work history when applying for social security disability or SSI.
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