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How to Prove Disability

In order to qualify for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you need to know how to prove disability. Even if your claim is a no-brainer, remember that the vast majority of initial claims are denied by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Read on to learn more about the criteria involved in proving disability.

How the SSA Defines Disability

The SSA takes a strict definition of disability. You can't be partially or temporarily disabled and still qualify for SSDI benefits. To be disabled in the eyes of the SSA, you must show that:

  1. You can't do the work you did prior to your disability.
  2. You can't do other work because of your disability.
  3. Your disability will last at least a year or is expected to result in death.

If you meet this definition, you can't engage in any "substantial gainful activity" or employment for profit. If you earn more than a given amount in a month, the SSA will determine that you're capable of employment and no longer disabled. In 2015, non-blind individuals could not make more than $1090 a month and still be considered disabled.

Gather or Develop Your Medical History

One of the most common reasons disability benefits are denied is because the applicant didn't supply enough medical evidence to prove his or her disability. Developing your medical documentation can help you prove your disability. The SSA will want to see medical records dating back to the time at which you state you first became disabled. Finding your disability onset date can be difficult, especially with mental health disability claims. Don't be afraid to ask your family, friends, and employers when your condition began to impact your work.

Use of Your Doctors

You may benefit from a specialist's opinion, as well as your regular physician's. Doctors can provide an assessment of your physical condition and mental condition. Keep in mind, not all medical professionals and treatments are given equal credibility under the SSA. For example, you may jeopardize your claim if you have decided to seek treatment from a naturopathic doctor instead of a conventional M.D.

Make sure you have complied with your doctor's orders, including medications and therapy sessions. Don't assume your doctor will support your claim, but make sure you two are in agreement about your condition. Communicate clearly to your doctor about any limitations you may have. This will help ensure your doctor not only can diagnose your disability, but also can understand how the impairment affects daily activities.

Listed Conditions

Certain impairments are considered so disabling that the SSA will automatically grant benefits if they are severe enough. These conditions, described in the "Blue Book," include arthritis, heart disease, asthma, and others. However, even if you have a listed condition, you'll still need medical records to show that you meet the level of severity required for automatic approval.

Prepare Your Non-Medical Evidence

Keep a detailed journal of your daily activities, from the moment you wake up to just before bedtime, paying special attention to how your impairment affects the ability to perform everyday tasks. If you're presenting your case at a hearing, be ready to describe your ability to walk, sit, stand, carry objects, and other specific tasks.

Meeting with a vocational expert can also help prove disability. An expert can submit written opinions detailing how your condition impacts your ability to work. So can colleagues, family, and others who know you well. Compile a list of people, including coworkers and family members, who can attest to your disability and how it affects your ability to perform certain tasks.

Be careful not to overstate your ability to perform a given physical or mental task. Make you sure explain honestly how your disability limits your ability to work full time. It's not enough just to have symptoms of a disability. The symptoms must impair your ability to work.

Make sure all of the elements of your claim are consistent. A claims administrator or Administrative Law Judge (if on appeal) will actively look for reasons to deny your claim, including inconsistencies that challenge your credibility.

Get Your Information in Order

If you apply for SSDI benefits, the application you fill out will require detailed information. The Social Security Administration provides a checklist for online adult disability applications. The checklist isn't exclusive. You're free to provide extra information that you think will strengthen your claim.

If your case is particularly difficult, consider contacting a disability lawyer. A lawyer can help you identify what medical tests and expert opinions will help bolster your claim, explain your rights to you, and guide you through the SSDI process.

Next Steps
Contact a qualified social security lawyer to assist in your
social security disability matter.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)

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