Is Qualifying for Disability Benefits Because of Physical Impairments Difficult?
The Social Security Disability program is well-known for being particularly strict in its determination of whether a disability reaches the level required for physical impairment disability benefits. There is no such thing as a “partial” disability for SSD—you must have been unable to work due to your impairment for a year or expect to be unable to work due to your impairment for at least a year, or your impairment must be expected to cause death.
Your past work history must qualify you for SSD benefits, meaning you must have worked at jobs where you paid into the Social Security System. This means any jobs you had where you were paid cash or were paid “under the table,” would not be counted. Jobs where you and your employer both paid into SSA would be counted, as would self-employment, so long as you paid into the system. You must have a certain number of work “credits” which are counted based to some extent on your age.
In general, you must have at least 40 work credits, with 20 of those being earned in the ten years prior to the time you became disabled. The numbers will vary from year to year, but in 2022, you earned one SS credit for every $1,510 in covered earnings—you must have earned $6,040 to obtain the maximum four credits for the year. Certain blind workers must only meet the duration of work test. You can find an SSA Duration of Work Table here on the SSA’s website.
You must also meet the income requirements necessary for qualifying for physical impairment disability benefits. As of 2022, you can make up to $1,350 per month in Substantial Gainful Activity ($2,260 if you are blind). During the trial work period, there are no limits on your earnings, but if you exceed the $1,350 allowable income, then your SSD benefits may stop. Some forms of income (like child support) are not counted against your total monthly earned income.
So, you may wonder whether qualifying for disability benefits because of physical impairments is difficult. The SSA will determine whether your physical impairment prevents you from performing your past work. If the answer is no, then you have no qualifying disability and cannot be awarded disability benefits. If the answer is yes, the SSA will determine whether there are other types of work you could potentially do, even with your current physical impairment.
Your medical condition(s), as well as your age, education, past work experience, and any “transferable skills” you may have will all be taken into consideration. If the SSA determines you cannot do another type of work, you will qualify for disability benefits. If they determine you can do another type of work, your claim for SSD benefits will be denied. Aside from those with a physical or mental impairment that prevents them from working, SSD benefits may also be available for those who are blind or have low vision, the widow or widower of the worker, a child with a disability, and for wounded warriors and veterans.
According to the Social Security Disability Resource Center, while the rate of approval for Social Security Disability varies significantly from state to state and from level to level of the process, the average national rate for approval of an initial application for disability is only 36 percent. The second level of review for your initial denial has an approval rating of only 13.8 percent.
The third level of appeal—heard before an administrative law judge—has the highest rate of approval at 62 percent nationwide. If an administrative law judge denies your appeal, you will go to the Appeals Council, which has an approval rate of only about 13 percent. The final disability appeal, through federal court, has an approval rate of about 40 percent. While these statistics might imply that everyone is eventually approved, in fact, few people have the fortitude to see a case through the five levels.
Having an experienced Worcester, Massachusetts disability lawyer by your side from your very first application makes qualifying for physical impairment disability benefits much more likely. It is far too easy to make a mistake when filling out the SSD application that can cost you precious time as well as much-needed financial resources. The Sharry & Monfette attorneys will work with you for the most positive outcome possible—an approval for your Social Security disability application.
What Are Some Examples of Physical Impairments That May Qualify for Disability Benefits?
If your physical impairment meets the requirements listed in the Blue Book and you meet all other general requirements, then you may qualify for SSD benefits. If your physical impairment does not meet the Blue Book requirements, SSA will assess your overall medical condition, determining whether there is a level of work you could possibly do (sedentary, light, medium, or heavy). This will be taken together with your age, education, and job history to determine whether you are eligible for SSD benefits. Some of the physical impairments that qualify for Social Security disability benefits include:
- A stroke that leaves you unable to communicate or move your limbs or makes it extremely difficult for you to communicate or move your limbs likely qualifies you for disability benefits.
- Hearing loss that significantly limits your ability to work may qualify you for disability benefits.
- Balance problems like Meniere’s Disease can make it difficult or impossible to work, so could qualify you for disability benefits.
- Osteoarthritis in your hands, wrists, knees, hips, or back could be considered disabling by the SSA, depending on the extent of the impairment.
- Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that alters your nervous system. The SSA will probably assess whether your MS makes it extremely difficult or impossible for you to work.
- Heart conditions that are severe enough to prevent you from working and that cannot be controlled through medication may qualify you for SSD benefits.
- Cancer victims may only qualify for disability benefits if the symptoms and/or treatments for the disease make it impossible to hold down a full-time job.
- A diagnosis of HIV or AIDs could possibly qualify you for disability benefits, but only if your symptoms are severe and keep you from working.
- COPD, Asthma, and other respiratory disorders that cause breathing problems will only qualify for SSD benefits if your symptoms are so severe that they interfere with your ability to work and make a living.
- Severe diabetes that is uncontrolled may qualify for SSD benefits, but in most cases, diabetes that is controlled with medication is not eligible for SSD benefits.
- Crohn’s Disease and other gastrointestinal disorders could be severe enough to qualify you for disability benefits but will likely require sufficient evidence that these physical impairments make it impossible for you to work.
- Chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, while very real to those who suffer from these impairments, are unlikely to be considered a disability by the SSA, who are generally skeptical of disability claims based on either of these. If you can prove, however, that these impairments prevent you from working, then you might be able to gain approval for disability benefits.
- Degenerative disc disease is similar to chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. It can be extremely difficult to prove that your degenerative disc disease causes you to be unable to work unless other physical or mental problems are present.
- Black Lung Disease could qualify you for disability benefits under the federal Black Lung Program and is the result of the inhalation of coal dust that scars the lung tissue and affects the gas-exchanging ability of the lungs to remove carbon dioxide and bring oxygen into the bloodstream.
To read about mental illnesses that may qualify for disability benefits, see Qualifying for Disability Benefits Because of Mental Illnesses.
What Physical Impairments Automatically Qualify You for Disability Benefits?
Certain physical impairments usually qualify for disability benefits as soon as the diagnosis is confirmed under Compassionate Allowances. Some examples include leukemia, Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), and pancreatic cancer. Another SSA program, Quick Disability Determinations (QDD) is also used in some cases. QDD is a computer-based predictive model that screens applications, identifying those that have a high likelihood of a favorable determination, thus expediting the claim. It is a good idea to speak with your disability attorney from Sharry & Monfette, LLP to help you determine whether your condition falls under Compassionate Allowances, as you could receive your disability benefits much quicker if it does.
How the Sharry & Monfette Disability Attorneys Can Help
Qualifying for disability benefits because of physical impairments can be a long, uphill process. But it can be made significantly easier once you have a law firm on your side who will advocate for you, your rights, and your future. Our unwavering commitment to our clients, along with our unparalleled drive, experience, and knowledge provide a great client experience for those seeking SSD benefits. While we are a smaller law firm, our shared core values and knowledge of SS disability make us a strong force to be reckoned with.
We take the trust you place in us very seriously, working with you every step of the way to help you secure the physical impairment disability benefits you need and deserve. When you choose Sharry & Monfette, LLP, you will clearly see the loyalty clients feel toward our firm and to the individuals that make up the firm. Contact Sharry & Monfette, LLP today to find out how we can help you.