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SSA Medical Vocational Allowance

There is no part of the Social Security Administration Disability process which is more confusing to claimants than how the SSA determines whether or not a claimant is disabled and should qualify for SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

How does the SSA make their disability determination decision for SSDI or SSI?


First, assuming that a claimant meets the nonmedical requirements of SSDI or SSI, the Social Security Administration will first review whether or not their severe health condition “meets or exceeds” a listing on their SSA Listing of Impairments (also called the Blue Book). If the condition does not “meet a listing” the SSA does not automatically deny the claimant’s case but will instead review the claimant’s conditions further to determine if they have the ability or “residual functional ability” to perform work activities.

Many claimants wonder how their age, education or work history factors into the disability decision making process. It doesn’t unless the SSA makes a disability determination through a medical vocational allowance.

The SSA, using a medical vocational allowance, will consider the claimants residual functional capacity to work and will review the claimant’s age, work history, job skills and education to determine if they could retrain for new work. Claimants who can retrain for new work are denied SSI or SSDI benefits; those who cannot are awarded SSDI or SSI benefits.

Examining the Medical Vocational Allowance process


Most SSI and SSDI applicants do not have a condition which meets or exceeds a listing in the SSA Listing of Impairments; in fact, most disability applications are approved through a medical vocational allowance. So how does the process work?

After the disability examiner who is employed by the Disability Determination Services office determines that a claimant’s condition does not meet a listing they will send the claimant’s application to a medical consultant at the DDS who will review the disability applicant’s medical records to assess the claimant’s residual functional capacity to work.

It is at this stage in the disability decision making process that an applicant’s medical records become very important. We consistently notify claimants that although their doctor does not have to provide a “note” that they are disabled it is very beneficial if their doctor is willing to provide detailed information about the limitations of their ability to work.

For instance, if the doctor is willing to complete a residual functional capacity form (RFC form) which details what a claimant can do (i.e. walk for 10 minutes, lift less than 10 pounds, sit for one hour, etc.) this information can go a long way toward proving that the claimant’s disability and the resulting impairments or symptoms prevent them from working.

What if your doctor fails to include detailed notes about your functional limitations? It will not be impossible to win Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance benefits but it becomes much more subjective as the disability examiner reviews the medical notes, MRIs, X-rays, and laboratory tests and attempts to determine what type of work a claimant can continue to perform.

It is not unusual for many claimants who do not meet a listing on the SSA Listing of Impairments to be denied the first time they apply for SSI or SSDI. If you have been denied because the SSA disability examiner stated you had the residual functional capacity to work it is time to talk to a lawyer who can review your medical records to determine what additional information you need to win benefits.
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