Qualifying for Disability Benefits Because of Physical Impairments

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If you have a physical impairment that prevents you from working, you may qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. You must meet certain specific criteria such as: 

  • You must be unable to work because of a medical condition expected to last at least one year or result in death. Some programs award benefits for partial or short-term disabilities, but Social Security does not. 
  • You must meet the earnings requirements, including a recent work test based on your age when you became disabled and duration of work to show you worked enough quarters and paid enough to qualify. 
  • You cannot engage in “substantial gainful activity” and continue receiving disability benefits—i.e., you are not allowed to work and make more than $1,350 per month (gross) as of 2022. 

It can be difficult to obtain Social Security Disability benefits, even when you are clearly disabled with a physical or mental impairment. SSA sets the bar very high. They require medical records that back up your claim. It can be highly beneficial to have a qualified Social Security Disability attorney from Schaffer & Associates help you with your initial application and the appeal process if needed. We have been helping disabled individuals get the benefits they are entitled to for many years. 

Qualifying for Physical Impairment Disability Benefits

According to the SSA website, a five-step process is used to determine whether you are disabled under their terms and eligible to receive SSD benefits. You will be asked about your past work history. This is to decide whether or not you are still able to perform your regular job duties. You will be asked how you physically performed your job and whether you learned skills while on the job that may transfer to a different job. Unless you are physically unable to fulfill your past job duties and cannot train to do another type of work, you will not be considered disabled. To determine whether you can be trained for another kind of work, SSA will look at your age, education, level of training, and past work experience. 

For example, if you are a 60-year-old carpenter who has never done any other type of work and have no education that would prepare you for any different kind of work, you will likely be deemed unable to do another type of work. On the other hand, if you are a 40-year-old carpenter, but you have done different types of work in the past (and your current disability would not prohibit you from doing those types of work again), you may not be considered disabled. SSA might consider you young enough to be trained or educated to do another type of work or might believe you can do work you did in the past. (Whether you liked that other type of work, or want to return to it, is irrelevant as far as the SSA is concerned). 

To determine disability, the SSA will look at the demands of your recent past work, then compare them with your current ability to do basic work activities. The SSA will look at your past work that is considered relevant—usually work you did for the prior 15 years, work that was considered full time, and any work you did long enough to master the job. It is important to note that the SSA does not consider whether you could get a job doing a specific type of work, only that you are physically and mentally able to do so. They do not care whether you would be hired, whether there are job openings, whether you would be required to move, whether you want to do the work, or even whether you still maintain a certificate or license to do the work. The only consideration is whether you can do the work. 

What Medical Evidence is Necessary to Prove Physical Disability?

You must establish that you have a disabling physical condition that keeps you from working in a sustained, gainful capacity. Medical evidence is crucial in proving your physical disability. Your medical records must come from licensed medical professionals. You must provide medical reports, including physical examination reports, diagnosis reports, and treatment reports. Any medications you take for your disabling condition must be provided, as well as lab tests, including blood tests, MRIs, CT scans, x-rays, and any other types of medical tests that show your disability. 

The observations of your treating physicians should be clearly and accurately noted. An attorney will help gather this evidence and can help explain any gaps in medical or work history to the judge at your hearing. Your Social Security Disability attorney will present your case in the best light, which, in turn, helps you get the SSD benefits you need and deserve. 

What is the Compassionate Allowances Program?

There are some severe medical conditions that, by their very definition, meet SSA standards for disability. These include certain types of cancer, adult brain disorders, and certain rare disorders that affect children. The Compassionate Allowances Program helps reduce the normal waiting time for an SSD determination for those with these severe disabilities. The list of disabilities that qualify for Compassionate Allowances is continuously updated, based on counsel from medical and scientific experts, research from the NIH, information from public outreach hearings, and information from the public. 

What is Medical-Vocational Allowance?

Under most circumstances, your disability must match or be very similar to a disability listed in the Blue Book. Under certain circumstances, however, if your medical condition does not meet Blue Book requirements, you can still ask that the SSA take a closer look at your disability application. Suppose you can clearly show that your medical condition results in an impairment that is severe enough to stop you from engaging in gainful employment. In that case, you could still be found eligible for SSD benefits under a medical-vocational allowance. 

The medical aspect is a careful review of your medical documentation to determine how your disability impairs your ability to perform your job functions as well as everyday activities. A medical consultant will establish an RFC (Residual Functional Capacity) rating for you that will tell the SSA what type of work you might be able to do, given your disability limitations. The vocational aspect has to do with your age, work experience, education, and job skills. When determining whether you qualify for a medical-vocational allowance, both the medical evidence and your vocational status come into play. 

What are the Physical Impairments That Qualify for Social Security Disability?

The Blue Book details the specific physical impairments that can qualify you for disability benefits. These physical impairments are divided into the following categories:

  • 1.00—Musculoskeletal Disorders, including (but not limited to in each category) disorders of the spine, soft tissue injuries, burns, arthritis, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • 2.00—Special Senses and Speech, including loss of vision, hearing loss, loss of speech, and vertigo associated with disturbances of vestibular functions. 
  • 3.00—Respiratory Disorders, including asthma, COPD, and Black Lung disease.
  • 4.00—Cardiovascular System, including chronic heart failure, ischemic heart disease, recurrent arrhythmias, heart transplant, aneurysms, and peripheral arterial disease. 
  • 5.00—Digestive System, including gastrointestinal hemorrhaging, chronic liver disease, inflammatory bowel disease, short bowel syndrome, weight loss due to a digestive disorder, or liver transplant. 
  • 6.00—Genitourinary Disorders, including chronic kidney disease, with or without a kidney transplant, nephrotic syndrome, and other complications of chronic kidney disease. 
  • 7.00—Hematological Disorders, including hemolytic anemias, sickle cell disease, disorders of thrombosis and hemostasis, bone marrow disorders, hematological disorders treated by bone marrow or stem cell transplants, or repeated complications of hematological disorders. 
  • 8.00—Skin Disorders, including chronic infections of the skin or mucous membranes, dermatitis, genetic photosensitivity disorders, and burns.  
  • 9.00—Endocrine Disorders, including pituitary gland disorders, thyroid gland disorders, adrenal gland disorders, diabetes, and other pancreatic gland disorders. 
  • 10.00—Congenital Disorders that Affect Multiple Body Systems, including non-mosaic Down Syndrome. 
  • 11.00—Neurological Disorders, including traumatic brain injury, epilepsy, benign brain tumors, Parkinson’s, cerebral palsy, spinal cord disorders, multiple sclerosis, and Huntington’s Disease. 
  • 13.00—Cancer and other Malignant Neoplastic Diseases, including soft tissue cancers of the head and neck, skin cancer, lymphoma, leukemia, multiple myeloma, cancer of the thyroid gland, breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, kidney cancer, stomach cancer, liver cancer, ovarian cancer and many other types of cancer.  
  • 14.00—Immune System Disorders including HIV, lupus, vasculitis, scleroderma, and connective tissue disease. 

For further information about code 12.00, mental disorders, see Qualifying for Disability Benefits Because of Mental Illnesses.

How Schaffer & Associates Can Help with Your Physical Impairment Disability Benefits

If you find yourself disabled and unable to work due to a medical condition or illness, you could qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. Having a compassionate, highly qualified Social Security Disability attorney from Schaffer & Associates, LPA, as your advocate during this time can make a significant difference in the outcome of your disability claim. We can help you submit your initial application, ensure you do not miss any deadlines, and help you through the appeals process. Contact Schaffer & Associates, LPA, today for a free consultation.