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The Social Security Act requires that Social Security Disability benefits be paid where an individual is not able to perform work which exists in significant numbers in the national economy. The law treats persons who are 55 and over in a different way than those 54 and under. In many ways, they have two different standards of eligibility. The SSI medical eligibility standards are virtually the same as the standards for applicants for Social Security Disability, although SSI claimants also have income eligibility requirements that don’t apply to Social Security Disability claims.Persons who report income and pay Social Security taxes on those wages are treated as if they had paid insurance premiums to be covered under the Social Security Disability Insurance system. Of course, you can’t choose not to pay those premiums in most cases. The longer you pay the Social Security tax on wages, the longer you are considered “insured” for the purpose of applying for Social Security Disability benefits. In order for you to be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits, the Social Security Administration has to find that you became disabled while you were still insured.
The Social Security Administration is to use a five step analysis for determining if you are entitled to disability benefits.
Step One: Are you working? If you earn more than $900.00 a month, on average, the Social Security Administration will probably find that you are working. (That’s the figure for 2007; it goes up each year. Seehttp://www.ssa.gov/OACT/COLA/SGA.html for the curent figure.)
Step Two: If not, do you have a condition that has disabled you for 12 months, will be expected to disable you for 12 months, or is expected to result in your death within 12 months?
Step Three: If so, do you have a condition shown in the Listings of Impairments?
Step Four: If your condition does not meet the Listings of Impairments, can you return to a job you have done within the last 15 years (known as Past Relevant Work)?
Step Five: If you cannot return to Past Relevant Work (step four), can you do other kinds of work?
The Social Security Administration will rely on the Medical-Vocational Guidelines to determine if work may remain which you can do, based on your age, education, work experience, skills and physical restrictions. However, they cannot use that to turn someone down, if the application has other problems, such as emotional problems, loss of concentration due to pain or due to medication, or other “non-exertional” restrictions in addition to the physical restrictions, since the Guidelines do not consider any problems other than the physical restrictions.
At a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (in Iowa and in most States, but not in all States) will call a vocational expert to testify about jobs which may remain, considering your age, education, work background and physical and mental restrictions.
For those who are 55 and over, who are limited to light work or less, if the person cannot return to work as he or she has done it in the last 15 years, or as it is performed in the national economy in the last 15 years, the person is likely entitled to benefits.
For those who are 54 or under, the medical records and testimony should establish that the disabled person is unable to return to any past work as he or she has done it in the last 15 years, or as it is normally performed in the last 15 years, and that he or she cannot perform any jobs which exist is significant numbers in the national economy. There are two other ways of falling within the regulations, the Medical-Vocational Guidelines and the Listings of Impairments.
The Medical-Vocational Guidelines are a fairly complex grid for referring to a person’s level of physical exertion, age, education, work experience and transferability of work skills, to determine if the regulations direct a finding of disabled. They are sufficiently complicated, and have been so interpreted by case law, that any detailed explanation would be as likely to lead to misunderstanding as to lead to an appropriate use of the section. In the hands of an attorney who is experienced in the case law of your United States Circuit Court of Appeals, they can be of great assistance.
The Listings of Impairments are a set of definitions of particular diseases and disorders, such as epilepsy ,MS, chronic heart failure, kidney disease, diabetes mellitus and a variety of other physical conditions. There are also a number of mental disorders, including mental retardation, depression, anxiety and other emotional and organic mental disorders. Again, the Listings have been intepreted by the Courts, and in the hands of an attorney who is experienced in the case law of your United States Circuit Court of Appeals, they can be of great assistance.
Past Relevant Work –Do you still have the capacity, despite any medical or mental restrictions, to return to the work you have done in the last 15 years. Generally, jobs lasting less than three months, or in more skilled jobs, if you have not been there long enough to learn the job skills, the Administrative Law Judge will not consider those jobs. The Social Security Administration must determine if you can do the job as you did it, or as it is normally done in the national economy. They normally rely on vocational opinions for that. At the first two levels of the application process, that may be done by someone with no real vocational training, and may not be accurate. If the Social Security Administration decides that you can return to any such job, either as you performed it or as it is normally performed in the national economy, you will be found not disabled.
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