Social Security Must Consider Multiple Impairments When Determining Pennsylvania Residents’ Eligibility for Benefits
Individuals suffering from medical conditions that prevent them from working are encouraged to apply for Social Security, since the law requires the Administration to consider the combined effects of these conditions when determining eligibility. Federal law mandates that Social Security take into consideration the combined effects of impairments when they make a decision about whether an individual qualifies for benefits. Applicants are encouraged to list all of their medical conditions, including minor ones, when applying for disability.
As the Social Security Administration completes its five-step evaluation process, they will look at the combined effects of your medical problem. In some cases, the combined effects of mental, emotional, or physical impairments may be disabling, even if the separate conditions may not be. The critical element for Pennsylvania residents applying for Social Security is to communicate to their medical care providers all of their symptoms. This allows for a complete record before the SSA.
According to the law, the first step is to determine whether an individual can engage in substantial gainful activity. If so, the individual will be deemed capable of work and not disabled. The second step in the evaluation process focuses on assessing impairments that may affect the ability to work. Severe impairments substantially interfere with the ability to perform work-related tasks, both physical and mental. These can include walking, bending, lifting, following directions, and communicating with supervisors and co-workers. Non-severe impairments are those that are not disabling on their own but can exacerbate symptoms of other conditions that may lead to a determination of disability.
Proceeding past step two does not require having an impairment that is severe on its own. In fact, a combination of impairments can be deemed severe if, together, they substantially limit work-related activity. Showing impairments are severe requires receiving medical treatment consistently and providing Social Security with all of the relevant medical records. A doctor who can provide a written opinion about the work-related limitation may strengthen the potential for the SSA to find the condition severe and legitimate.
Moving forward, if the SSA determines that an applicant has a severe combination of impairments, they will assess whether the condition falls under a listing in the “Blue Book.” This Blue Book lists criteria for meeting serious medical conditions that will automatically qualify an individual for benefits. In some circumstances, an individual may be awarded benefits when their condition does not meet a listing but is “equal” in severity to another serious impairment.
Finally, if an individual has not been approved for benefits based on a listing, at steps four and five, SSA will assess the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) of the individual and their ability to work. A person’s RFC is the highest work activity they can perform, mentally and physically, despite their medical symptoms. The main focus of an RFC evaluation is to understand exertional restrictions and non-exertional restrictions. A strength-related or exertional restriction looks at the ability to lift, sit, stand, carry, or walk. Non-exertional restrictions can range from mental limitations to interacting with others.
When a person is assigned an RFC, it is important to note the SSA will look at all of the impairments, alone and combined. Mental conditions, such as depression and anxiety, can affect an individual’s physical capabilities, and this is a consideration that should be recognized by Social Security.
Meeting this final, fifth step requires showing that the medical limitations led to a restrictive RFC, which prevents full-time employment. Social Security may attempt to show that an individual has the ability to work in a few categories of jobs, despite their RFC. A skilled attorney can help argue that the combined medical conditions prevent working in a job.
At Needle Law, we work with clients to ensure that all of their medical evidence is well-developed when applying for Social Security benefits. Individuals throughout Pennsylvania will receive personal attention and skilled representation from our Social Security lawyers. Contact our office by calling (570) 344-1266 or completing our online form to set up your complimentary consultation.