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Are you medically qualified for either or both benefits based on your age, education
and work experience?
This question begs another question, which is: do you have a severe impairment that
has, or will, prevent you from working at a Substantially Gainful level of Activity (usually
employment) for one year or longer on a sustained basis? (Substantially Gainful Activity
or SGA is now $1,000.00 per month.) To take the simplest part first, one year is from,
for example, January 1, 2010 until December 31, 2010 not until December 30, 2010.
Sounds pretty obvious, but, as I said, I am sharing years of experience with you. As the
old saying goes, close only counts in horseshoes or with hand grenades. This is
called the “duration” requirement. Claims are sometimes denied at the Initial and
Reconsideration level by the Department of Disability Determination Services (DDS)
because the examiner does not believe the impairment will last for one year. Given that
it usually takes more than a year to get a hearing scheduled, which will be discussed
further, this usually, absent significant medical improvement (and/or work activity),
becomes a non-issue.
The more difficult part is that of establishing, with longitudinal, objective medical
evidence that your impairment(s) prevent or limit you from performing activities
associated with employment. Even if the evidence does establish limitations, the
person adjudicating your claim needs to determine, particularly for younger individuals,
that those limitations preclude all work activity in the competitive national economy.
Longitudinal medical evidence simply means that evidence from an acceptable
medical source exists relating to your impairments, exists for the period for which you
are claiming disability, and, further, that evidence is objective. Objective medical
evidence is based on an acceptable medical source’s examinations and tests.
Social Security Regulations define an acceptable medical source to be a Medical
Doctor (M.D.), a Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.), or a Licensed Clinical Psychologist
(Psychiatrists fall under the M.D. and D.O. categories). For some impairments related
to feet, Doctors of Podiatric Medicine (D.P.M.) are acceptable medical sources for those
specific impairments. Similarly, for some impairments related to vision, particularly
fields of vision and visual acuity, optometrists are acceptable medical sources as are
audiologists for hearing impairments.
What if your care is primarily from a non-acceptable medical source such as a nurse
practitioner? First, many of these sources are reluctant to evaluate your limitations
because somebody has told them that they are not acceptable medical sources and
their opinions will be given little or no weight by SSA. That is not necessarily true,
especially if you have seen the person frequently and his or her opinions are supported
by, or consistent with, better evidence and explanations than an acceptable medical
source in the record.
Not all medical sources, acceptable and unacceptable, are treating sources in terms of
SSA Regulations and Rulings. A treating source is generally someone with whom a
claimant has a continuing treating relationship that involves examinations, tests,
therapy and so on. Each specific fact situation dictates how long and how often a
claimant needs to see a medical source before that person becomes a treating source
in the SSA sense of the word. A physician who does an examination at a single point in
time, sometimes to treat an acute condition, is not usually a treating source in the
sense of this discussion (which is why repeated visits to the emergency room don’t
usually carry much weight if unrelated to a condition getting required and continuing
treatment). The key point here is that a well-supported medical opinion of a treating
source must be given controlling weight by SSA if it is not inconsistent with other
substantial evidence in the record.
There are three things to note before going on. As you will see when we get to the five-
step evaluation, Social Security does not necessarily consider a person disabled if he
or she cannot do their past work. In the simplest sense, Social Security will not find a
person disabled under 50 years old if it determines that he or she can perform
unskilled work that only requires lifting up to ten pounds, sitting six hours (with position
changes) a day, standing/walking two hours a day with fewer than two absences a
month. The second point is that a lot of claimants know, or know of, somebody who is
on the benefits “with nothing wrong with him/her” or got on the benefits in just a few
There may be a lot of other factors such as age and education as well as not readily
apparent impairments in his or her claim. Perhaps there was more evidence to be
evaluated in support of the claim. In short, it’s his or her claim, not your claim. The third
point is that, with five or so exceptions, every client I have ever had, in my own belief, has
honestly believed he or she is disabled from working. My belief is based on the simple
and logical facts that most people are inherently honest and would rather be working.
Social Security Disability Attorney