Lawyer Referral Information Service – August Newsletter 2017

A General Scope for Social Security Eligibility.
by Allison Affleck

A person may become unable to work for many different reasons. He or she may, for example, develop a form of cancer, or lose a limb to diabetes, or develop a blockage resulting in a heart attack. The physical manifestations are often obvious. There may also, however, be mental or psychological impairments that one cannot physically see that plague a person the most. These symptoms may be brought on by emotional trauma as well as physical, and may result in post-traumatic stress disorder, for example. Sometimes, psychological conditions such as severe depression and anxiety may develop as the result of the continued effects of physical injuries such as pain. Unfortunately, these conditions may not be as easily recognized, diagnosed, or treated as quickly and effectively as physical problems may be.

To determine whether or not a person is disabled because of a mental impairment, Social Security considers how a person’s functional limitations may preclude work. To be eligible for Social Security disability based on a mental or psychological impairment, a person must demonstrate one of the following: first, that his or her psychological condition(s) meets or equals one of the “listed” impairments outlined by the Social Security Administration (SSA listing 12.00 Mental Disorders – Adult) or second, that his functional limitations result in a “residual functional capacity” that would preclude work. To satisfy these requirements, SSA looks to medical evidence, including opinions from treating medical providers, and testimony from the claimant, among other information.

The requirements for meeting or equaling a listed impairment are very specific. Some of these general conditions include: neurocognitive disorders; schizophrenia; depression; bipolar; intellectual disorders; anxiety; obsessive-compulsive disorders; and trauma- and stressor- related disorders. If a person’s condition(s) meets or equals the requirements of one of these listings, and the durational component is met, he should be awarded disability.

If a person can’t prove that his mental impairment meets or equals the requirements of a listing, he may also establish the degree of his disability through his “residual functional capacity” or “RFC.” Here, he demonstrates how his functionally impaired abilities would preclude his ability to perform certain work activities. Some abilities SSA may consider in determining an RFC include: the ability to relate and respond appropriately to people in a work setting; the ability to attend meetings; the ability to work around the home; the ability to socialize with friends and neighbors; the ability to care for personal needs; the ability to understand, carry out and remember instructions; the ability to maintain attention/concentration; the ability to respond appropriately to supervision; the ability to function independently to complete tasks; the ability to respond to customary work pressures; the ability to demonstrate reliability; and the ability to maintain persistence and

pace. SSA considers, alone or together, whether the total of such limitations would preclude work. For example, perhaps a person’s symptoms cause him to be “off-task” for 15% or more of the work day. Or, maybe a person’s symptoms would cause him to be consistently late to work, need to leave early from work, or to miss more than one day of work per month. Such limitations would most likely preclude work.

Counsel should keep in mind the importance of psychological or mental impairments, as well as physical components of a disability, to determine the true cause and limiting effects of a person’s conditions. He or she should fully bring into focus the participation of each and the weight that each must be afforded.

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