You never planned to stop working this way. You always thought you’d work until you could retire and enjoy your golden years. However, a serious illness or physical disability has suddenly changed your plans. Now you find yourself trying to understand the Social Security disability system so you can apply for the benefits you need when you can no longer earn a paycheck. Unfortunately, this is a long and frustrating process for many people, even those who are clearly eligible and have a legitimate disability.

At Gibbons Leis, PLLC, we understand what you are going through. Attorney Phil Gibbons was unable to work as he battled cancer several years ago and knows how it feels to wonder if you’ll ever be healthy enough to work again. Attorney Craig Leis has a parent with multiple sclerosis and sees first-hand how a disability can impact the ability to work. We understand the SSDI system and are committed to easing these burdens for our clients.

Are You Eligible for Social Security Disability Benefits?

You may be too ill to work, but does that mean you automatically get disability benefits? Unfortunately, no—the process is not that simple. First, you must determine which disability program you are eligible for. SSDI is for individuals who have paid into the system and have worked for at least five of the last ten years. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is for low-income individuals who have not paid into Social Security. Next, you must have a qualifying physical or mental condition that prevents you from being able to work. Whether your condition qualifies is up to the Social Security Administration (SSA).

What Is a Qualifying Condition?

Through a doctor’s diagnosis and accompanying medical records, you must also show that your condition meets the criteria established by the SSA. Your illness must either be included in the SSA’s Listing of Impairments, also known as the Blue Book, or you must be able to show that your illness is as bad as or worse than the conditions listed in the Blue Book. People with the following conditions are often eligible for disability:

  • Cancer
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Back and spinal injuries
  • Hip and knee injuries
  • Repetitive motion injuries
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Stroke
  • Migraines

The SSA also acknowledges the debilitating nature of many mental conditions, and you may be able to collect disability for the following conditions:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Bi-polar disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Addiction

This is just a small sampling of the dozens of impairments listed in the Blue Book. However, simply having the condition does not qualify you for benefits. The final piece of the puzzle is proving that the condition prevents you from being able to work.

Proving You’re Unable to Work

You’ve paid into the Social Security system, and you have been diagnosed with a condition that is included on the listing of impairments, so the final step is to prove you are unable to work because of your medical condition. The SSA will make this determination by calculating what they call your residual functional capacity (RFC), which indicates the level of exertion you are capable of given your condition. An assessment will be made based on your medical records and doctor’s notes. If the SSA decides you are capable of all the tasks required of your job despite your medical condition, they will deny your claim. If they determine that you are capable of some kind of modified work, such as a desk job or working limited hours, your claim will also be denied.

Sound Overwhelming? We Can Help

Yes, this is a difficult process, but don’t lose hope. Even if you have already applied and been denied, we can help you build a stronger case for appeal. People are denied for a variety of reasons, including incomplete applications, inadequate medical evidence, and failure to follow the recommended treatment. However, with an experienced disability attorney on your case, you can be sure you have the medical records, vocational witnesses, and other evidence you need to present a strong claim. Contact our Charlotte law office for a free assessment of your case.