The process of applying for disability benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA) can be confusing. To qualify, you first must have worked in jobs in which you paid into Social Security. Then, you must have a condition or combination of conditions that meets the SSA’s definition of disability.
The SSA follows a five-step sequential process to determine if a person is disabled:
- A person cannot earn more than $1,220 a month from working (gainful employment) when claiming disability;
- A person must have an impairment or combination of impairments that significantly limits their ability to basic work and is expected to last for at least 12 months or result in death (note that you can apply for disability benefits before you have been disabled for 12 months);
- Social Security will review whether a person’s condition meets all of the requirements for a condition on SSA’s list of disabling conditions or has other factors that equal a condition on that list;
- If note, then the medical impairment must prevent them from performing any of their past work; and
- They must not be able to do any other type of work, considering their impairment, age, education, past work experience and any transferable skills (this last step requires Social Security to identify other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy).
For many people, one of the most difficult parts of this process is the determination of whether they can perform any other type of work. If the SSA determines that you can do another type of work, subject to a few age-related rules — such as light duty or sedentary duty work — then you will not qualify for benefits.
For this reason, for most people it is vitally important to prove to the SSA that you cannot do sedentary work. Learn more about the process from a Philadelphia disability benefits lawyer.
What Is Sedentary Work?
According to the SSA, sedentary work includes jobs that are mostly seated, but may include standing and walking for 2 hours or less each day. These positions require lifting no more than 10 pounds and occasionally carrying light objects (like office papers or folders).
Importantly, sedentary work does not necessarily mean just sitting in one place all day. Under SSA requirements, a person doing sedentary work typically must be able to lift objects of up to 10 pounds, carry these objects, walk and stand. This is an important distinction to remember as you move through the disability benefits process.
However, even this is not absolute, and Social Security may rely on a vocational expert to identify jobs that require very little standing and lifting. So, even if you can prove that you can’t meet the lifting or walking requirements specified in Social Security’s definition of sedentary work, the government may still be able to deny your claim if they can identify jobs you could still do.
How Does the SSA Determine Disability?
During the disability evaluation process at Steps Four and Five (discussed above), the SSA will prepare what is known as a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) assessment. This is a detailed summary of the specific functional limitations that Social Security has determined impair your ability to work.
If the RFC is consistent with the ability to perform sedentary work, then, unless you are over 50 and meet certain other criteria, you will not receive disability benefits. However, if the RFC includes limitations to activity at “less than sedentary” levels, then you are more likely to be found disabled and eligible for benefits.
There are a number of disabilities and other impairments that may prevent you from performing sedentary work. For example, if you have a chronic back issue that prevents you from sitting for six to eight hours at a time, that may prevent you from working at a sedentary job. Similarly, if you use a mobility device to walk, you may not be able to perform sedentary work.
There are numerous other limitations that could prevent a person from being able to do sedentary work. These include an inability to bend, a need for medication that impairs concentration and focus, or the need to elevate your legs above waist level. Any impairments that would interfere with the ability to get through a full eight-hour workday, would also reduce your capacity below “sedentary.”
Proving that You Cannot Do Sedentary Work
For most individuals under 50, in order to qualify for disability benefits, you must be able to demonstrate that you are completely disabled, and unable to perform even sedentary work on a regular basis (usually Social Security considers only the ability to perform full-time, competitive work when deciding if you are disabling). It can be challenging to prove that you cannot perform this type of light duty work regularly, but there are certain factors that can be used to show that you cannot do this work.
To prove that you cannot do sedentary work, you may submit evidence of the following:
- You cannot lift 10 pounds occasionally, or lighter amounts regularly;
- You cannot sit for 6 out of 8 hours;
- You cannot stand or walk for more than 2 hours combined;
- You must have your legs elevated in a way that interferes with sitting at a desk or workstation;
- You require a device like a cane or a walker to help you walk;
- You need to lie down during the day for more than an hour; or
- You need to change positions frequently in a way that could not be accommodated with a simple sit/stand workstation.
It is critical to document these factors with evidence from your medical records. This may include test results, letters from your treating physician about your restrictions or limitations, and treatment plans.
How a Philadelphia Disability Benefits Lawyer Can Help
Applying for disability benefits can be challenging. Working with a Philadelphia disability benefits lawyer can help to make the process simpler, as your lawyer can help you gather the paperwork and documentation that you need to put together the strongest possible application.
The skilled legal professionals of Bross & Frankel have dedicated their practice to helping people in the greater Philadelphia area apply for and obtain disability benefits. With offices in Cherry Hill, Philadelphia, Mt. Holly, Ventor, Turnersville, Princeton, and Media, we work with clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey as they work through the process. To learn more about how we can help you or to schedule a free claim review call our office today at 856-795-8880, or contact us online.