Understanding the Requirements for Social Security Disability Benefits

One of the more challenging parts of applying for disability benefits is the process of obtaining your evidence of disability. It will likely require investing time in contacting the clinics and doctors you have seen regarding your condition and getting relevant, complete information. Medical evidence can take various forms in a Social Security disability (or SSI) case, including physician examinations and treatment notes, bloodwork panels, mental health records, and imaging study findings (MRI, CAT scan, and X-rays). Medical evidence from your treating doctors that is timely, correct, and sufficient can substantially minimize or eliminate the need for the Social Security Administration (SSA) to acquire further medical evidence, allowing you to achieve a speedier decision on your disability claim. 

Required Documents

There are a handful of documents you may need when applying for disability benefits, such as:

  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or legal alien status if you were not born in the United States
  • Birth certificate or other proof of birth
  • If you served in the military before 1968, you may need to show a copy of your discharge papers.
  • Last year’s W-2 forms and/or self-employment tax returns
  • An Adult Disability Report including more information on your diseases, injuries, or ailments
  • Your employment history
  • Any medical evidence you already have in your possession
  • Award letters, pay stubs, settlement agreements, or any documentation of any temporary or permanent workers’ compensation-type payments you received

Medical Evidence

Under both the SSDI (title II) and SSI (title XVI) programs, medical evidence is the foundation of the disability ruling. Each individual filing a disability claim must provide medical documentation demonstrating that he or she has a disability and the degree of the condition(s). If your medical records aren’t very thorough, your doctor can indicate what medical problems you’ve been diagnosed with by sending a medical source statement to Social Security. Furthermore, your doctor will be able to clarify what symptoms and restrictions you are having as a result of your impairments. The SSA’s inability to properly evaluate all of your disabilities can serve as a strong foundation for any future disability appeal, so be sure they’re all documented in your claim file. 

Evidence Relating to Symptoms

SSA analyzes all avenues presented that relate to the complaints when generating proof of the impact of symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, or exhaustion on a claimant’s capacity to perform. This evidence includes information on:

  • The claimant’s daily activities
  • The type, dosage, effectiveness, and side effects of any medication
  • The location, duration, frequency, and intensity of the pain or other symptom
  • Precipitating and aggravating factors
  • Any measures the claimant uses or has used to relieve pain or other symptoms
  • Treatments for pain or other symptoms other than medications
  • Additional factors the Social Security Administration deems pertinent

Residual Functional Capacity

As part of its five-step disability assessment, the SSA will utilize your exertional capabilities and limits as reported by your doctor to calculate your “residual functional capacity” (RFC). Your RFC is your capacity to consistently accomplish a variety of work activities. You should talk to your doctor about how long you can stand, walk, and sit for in an eight-hour workday. The amount of weight you can carry and lift during the day is another significant strength requirement.

If you have restrictions in any of the following categories, your doctor should include them in your medical source statement.

  • Engaging with coworkers or the public
  • Concentrating on work tasks and following directions 
  • Using your hands for reaching, grasping, or fingering items 
  • Postural activities, such as bending, stooping, and climbing stairs 

Get Help Applying for Disability Benefits

If you have an illness or impairment that has a substantial impact on your life, you may be eligible for disability benefits. To talk with one of our experienced disability attorneys and for a free consultation, contact the Law Offices of Karen Kraus Bill.