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Social Security Administration disability benefits for an old work injury

Many Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income claimants have old work injuries. Unfortunately, the residual effects of some accidents or old work injuries can cause problems as disability claimants age and continue to work, eventually making it impossible to perform substantial gainful activity. Many Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income claimants ask, “Can I get Social Security Disability benefits for an old work injury which occurred years ago?”

Yes, it is possible to get Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income s for an old work injury or accident that happened in the past, but the Social Security Administration (SSA) will have to decide that your mental or physical health condition will last at least 12 continuous months and will not allow you to perform substantial gainful activity.

How do I know if I am performing substantial gainful activity?

If you have applied for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) you cannot be currently working at what the SSA considers a “substantial gainful activity level” or making more than $1,000 per month (2010). What if you are working and making too much money? The SSA will deny your SSDI disability claim, regardless of how severely you are injured from an old injury.

Next, you must have a severe mental or physical health condition that will not allow you to work for at least 12 continuous months. If you have been in a car accident, you might be injured now, but many car accident injuries will be healed within 12 months. Car accident victims who are severely injured now with what the SSA considers a “short-term” injury will not qualify for SSDI or SSI disability benefits but will have to rely on other compensation programs provided by their employer or their car insurance policy.

Finally, the SSA will determine if you have sufficient work credits to receive SSDI. SSDI is only available to workers who have worked long enough and paid sufficient employment taxes to be considered “insured.” If you have not worked or paid taxes, you will not have accumulated enough work credits and you will not qualify for SSDI.

Most workers will need between 20-40 work credits for SSDI (the amount varies based on the age of the worker when they became disabled). If you become disabled at age 31 or older, you generally need at least 20 credits in the 10 years immediately before you became disabled. According to the SSA, workers can receive one credit for each $1,120 of earnings, up to the maximum of four credits per year (in 2011).

The criteria listed above are considered “non-medical criteria.” The SSA will not pull your medical records and evaluate your claim if you are not insured for SSDI, you will not miss 12 months of work or if you are currently working too much.

Okay, so back to the question. Let’s assume you meet the non-medical criteria and your old work injury has caused you to stop working for at least 12 continuous months. Next the SSA will evaluate your health conditions to see if they are severe and they “meet a listing” on their SSA Listing of Impairments. This list simply identifies the most common conditions the SSA assumes are completely debilitating and will not allow a claimant to perform substantial gainful activity.

So for instance, let’s say you were injured at work 3 years ago and you suffered a severe work  injury. Maybe you attempted to return to work for a few years but over time the symptoms from the accident were too severe or you now have other conditions such as diabetes, COPD, or carpal tunnel syndrome which has continued to lower your ability to complete a normal work week.

If your work injury does not “meet or exceed” a listing on the SSA listing of impairments, the SSA will review all of your medical records and determine if your conditions impede your ability to work and determine whether you have the residual capacity to work your current job, previous jobs or retrain for new work given your age, work history, residual functional capacities, and education. If they determine you cannot work any type of job, they will award you disability benefits for your old work injury.
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