Winning Your Disability Case by Combining Impairments

People who apply for Social Security disability have severely disabling conditions, which, unfortunately, do not automatically qualify them for benefits under the Social Security Disability rules.

Social Security Administration lists a number of impairments that automatically qualify an applicant for disability benefits. Most of these require very specific medical or laboratory findings. If your medical evidence meets the requirements of an impairment listing, you will automatically be found disabled. However, even if you do not meet the detailed criteria of a listed impairment, you may still qualify for Social Security disability benefits if your symptoms and diagnosis are “medically equivalent” (i.e. equal in severity) to the listed impairment may have a condition which is not found in the listed impairments but is equally severe in its debilitating effect. Or you may have a combination of impairments which are found on the list but lack one or more of the detailed criteria to qualify you under the Rules for disability; added together, though, they are medically equivalent to the listed impairments.

Combined Physical Conditions

Under the medically equivalent analysis, Social Security is not allowed to evaluate each of your medical conditions separately but must look at the combined effects of all your impairments together. For example, a person with a combination of obesity, hypertension, and diabetes may qualify for disability benefits due to the disabling effect of all of these conditions put together even though each condition, viewed alone, is not technically severe enough to qualify as a listed impairment.

Combined Physical and Mental Conditions

You may also qualify for Social Security disability due to combined effects of physical and mental impairments. The Social Security rules require consideration of how limited the activities of daily living and social functioning are, and whether an applicant has problems with concentration or finishing tasks in a timely manner. Physical impairments often affect mental impairments, and vice versa. For example, even moderate anxiety and depression can decrease your tolerance for pain. Social Security is required by law to consider the effects of your mental and physical impairments together.

Winning Your Disability Case

First, and most importantly, you can let the SSA know about all of your impairments when you first apply for disability. As your case is decided primarily on your existing medical records, it is important to see your doctor regularly and to make him or her aware of all of the symptoms which are affecting you in your daily life. The symptoms described in the medical records, when combined with the diagnosis, could make the difference between being granted Social Security benefits and being denied.

Second, you may wish to keep a journal of your activities and how your condition affects you on a day-to-day basis. In your journal, for example, you may detail problems you have, what tasks you are required to perform and how your disability makes you unable to do them, problems with walking, sitting, or climbing stairs, the amount of pain you may be suffering, problems with sustained concentration at work, and how even simple tasks (like cooking or getting out of bed in the morning) present difficulties.

Third, when you apply for disability benefits, you need to make sure that you provide the SSA with your complete medical history, including the names of your treating doctors, any facilities where you have been hospitalized or treated, a complete list of medications, copies of any diagnostic tests, and a description of what treatments you have tried and whether they were effective.

Fourth, it is important to continue to receive medical treatment and care, even after you have applied for benefits. If the case requires additional evidence, or if it goes to a hearing, the SSA will look at your continuing symptoms, diagnoses, and treatment in making its determination. If you stop seeking regular medical care from a professional or stop taking the prescribed medication, the SSA is not going to look favorably on your behavior in support of your claim.

Finally, while you are not required to hire an attorney to pursue your Social Security claim, filing a claim based on a combination of impairments or a medically equivalent condition is very difficult. Your chances of winning your Social Security disability case are greatly enhanced if you are represented by an attorney knowledgeable in this area. The attorney will know how best to complete your application to bring out all of your medical evidence in the light most favorable to your claim, and if you need to appeal and go to a hearing, will know how to present your testimony and evidence to the hearing officer in an effective manner.

The bottom line is that applicants for Social Security disability who are represented by attorneys have been shown to have a far higher success rate than applicants who represent themselves.

October 25, 2017 Thought Leadership Articles
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