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How does the judge determine disability?

Before proceeding, it is very important that you know some of the basic details about how an administrative law judge will go about determining if you are disabled. It is a complicated and technical ordeal, the details of which often defy common sense. For example, your inability to get a job does not factor into the judge’s decision as to your disability status.

Sometimes, a medical evaluation of your injury by itself will allow the judge to determine that you are disabled. However, this is rare. It is far more likely that in addition to such an evaluation, your Social Security disability representative will need to prove both that your condition prevents you from working at any job you’ve held in the last 15 years and that there aren’t many other jobs you are capable of because of advanced age or lack of education or work experience.

To prove you fit that first condition—that your condition prevents you from working at any job you’ve held in the last 15 years—you may have to prove that you cannot perform the easiest job you held during the past 15 years, even if there is no chance you could get hired do that job again, or if the job no longer exists or is otherwise unavailable.

However, it is often even more complicated to prove you fit that second condition—that because of advanced age or lack of education or work experience, you’re unable to do many other jobs. This is because judge’s decision as to your disability status is based on a hypothetical determination. In other words, it is not based on real-world situations. The Social Security Administration only cares about your ability to do a job, even if your injury makes it unlikely that an employer would hire you. Therefore, you may end up needing to prove that you cannot do jobs you would never even be considered for.

Some of the misconceptions as to how someone is found disabled come from a phrase common in workers’ compensation cases: “totally and permanently disabled.”  However, worker’s compensation cases are a completely different matter from SSI and Social Security disability cases. In a Social Security disability case, it is not necessary for the victim to be “permanently” disabled in order to qualify for benefits. The victim only needs to be disabled for at least 12 months. The phrase “totally” disabled is also misleading: you only have to disabled in the sense that you cannot work at many common jobs. You don’t have to be incapable of doing anything at all.