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When does Social Security consider a condition disabling?

People seeking Social Security disability benefits generally suffer from severely disabling conditions. However, as any Tennessee Social Security lawyer can confirm, claim denial is a fairly common outcome for SSD applicants. According to a Social Security report, over 50 percent of 2010 claims were initially denied for medical reasons. This high rate reflects the fact that debilitating conditions don't always qualify as disabling under Social Security's standards. 

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Evaluation process

Social Security uses a five-step process to determine whether a person is disabled. During this process, Social Security considers the following factors:

  • Is the claimant working? Working individuals with income exceeding $1,090 per month aren't considered disabled, no matter how debilitating their conditions are.
  • How severe is the condition? The condition must be anticipated to prevent the claimant from working for at least 12 months.
  • Is the condition a recognized impairment? Social Security automatically classifies certain conditions, which are described in the "Blue Book," as disabling.
  • Can the claimant resume prior work? A non-recognized impairment isn't considered disabling if the claimant can do work he or she previously performed.
  • Could the claimant reasonably take up new work? To qualify as disabling, a non-recognized condition also must prevent a claimant from reasonably pursuing any kind of work.

As any Tennessee Social Security lawyer understands, people with severe physical or psychological impairments aren't always found disabled under these criteria. For example, if a physical injury is expected to heal within 12 months, it cannot qualify as disabling. Similarly, if a condition allows a person to perform light or sedentary work, it typically isn't considered disabling.

Medical documentation

Social Security usually requires extensive medical evidence to determine whether a condition is disabling. There is an exception for Compassionate Allowances conditions, which are conditions that almost inevitably qualify for SSD benefits. As any Tennessee Social Security lawyer can explain, Social Security requires minimal evidence in these claims. In all other cases, applicants must provide full documentation, including medical records, clinical tests and assessments.

People who suffer from Blue Book impairments should document specific aspects of their impairments. For each listed condition, the Blue Book provides criteria the condition must meet to be considered disabling. Applicants should focus on proving they satisfy these requirements.

Additional evidence

People who don't suffer from recognized impairing conditions must provide additional documentation. In these cases, Social Security weighs whether a person's condition, education, skills and experience collectively preclude employment. If so, the condition is considered disabling.

For these claims, applicants must provide information about their work experience and relevant skills. They also should gather documentation that offers insights into all symptoms and functional restrictions associated with the condition. This helps Social Security realistically evaluate whether the applicant can work.


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