A person is disabled, for purposes of receiving Social Security Disability or SSI benefits, if he is not capable of performing substantial gainful activity. In other words, a claimant must be unable to maintain productive employment.
A claimant’s disability may be due to any physical or mental impairment, or any combination of impairments, although there are exceptions for disabilities due primarily to alcoholism or drug addiction. The disability must be expected to last at least twelve consecutive months. The impairment must be severe, and of the type that would reasonably interfere with an ability to work.
In many cases, however, a severe impairment is not enough by itself to render a person disabled, for purposes of qualifying for benefits. The law recognizes that a person’s ability to work may also be affected by her age, education level, and the nature and extent of her past work experience. For example, a 42 year-old accountant may be capable of performing more jobs than a 55 year-old assembly worker with a limited education, although the two may share the same physical impairment.
If you have been denied disability benefits, it is because the examiner who dealt with your file concluded that you are able to work, considering your physical or mental impairments, age, education and work experience. If you retain an attorney to represent you at your hearing, it is his job to convince the administrative law judge that you are unable to work, and disabled under Social Security rules.
The primary role of the attorney in your claim for disability benefits is to gather and present evidence at the hearing. This means obtaining and developing all relevant medical records and reports, and making sure that the medical evidence and your testimony are presented effectively at the hearing. It means fully explaining to the judge the nature of your impairments, the severity of your symptoms, and the particular physical or mental limitations you experience.
While you are entitled to present your own evidence at the hearing in an attempt to prove disability, your chances of prevailing on your claim are much greater if you are represented by an experienced Social Security attorney.