Sustainability as an Alternate Theory

by Editorial Board on November 24, 2010 · 0 comments

in Winning Disability Benefits,Past Relevant Work (Step 4),Legal Concepts in SSD,Vocational or Work Issues

Many disabled individuals are able to do some amount of work.  You might qualify for Social Security disability benefits even if you are able to do a part time job.  Social Security looks at whether you can do a full time job to decide if you qualify for disability benefits.  They also look at whether you can sustain the job over time.

Social Security reviews the evidence in your case to determine your physical and mental functioning.  They estimate your ability to stand, walk, and sit throughout the work day.  They also estimate how much you can lift and carry, and how well you can use your arms and hands.  Your ability to concentrate, follow directions, and interact with other people is also considered.  Basically, Social Security estimates how all of your medical conditions affect you.  Social Security calls this your “RFC” (Residual Functional Capacity).  Social Security then decides whether you can still work despite the limitations of your RFC.

When Social Security decides your RFC they often fail to consider whether you could sustain that level of effort over weeks or months.  For example, if you have a knee or ankle condition you might work a full day but then miss work the next day because the joint swells and becomes painful.  Other medical conditions allow you to work until you have a “flare up”, such as gout, fibromyalgia, depression, and bipolar disorder.  Missing too much work can be just as disabling as not being able to work at all.

Why might Social Security fail to consider your ability to sustain work?  If Social Security sent you to a physical or mental exam they look very closely at that exam in deciding your case.  However, the exams are done in less than a day.  They don’t show how you would hold up under the strain of full time work day after day.

Also, Social Security usually doesn’t have evidence showing how your condition affects you over time.  You can’t get a physical and mental exam done every day.  To fix this problem, tell your doctor if you had a flare up since your last visit.  Describe the flare up and how long it lasted.

At your disability hearing make sure to explain what your health is like on your good days and your bad days.  Remember, if you have some good days when you can be active that doesn’t mean you aren’t disabled.  If you are honest about what you can do on a good day the disability judge should believe you when you tell the judge what you can’t do on the bad days.

Post a comment below to share your thoughts on this subject or ask us a question, we encourage you to be part of the Living with a Disability community.

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