Do Multiple Health Problems Improve the Odds of Receiving Benefits?

October 15, 2019

We would like to debunk a common myth about applying for Social Security disability benefits: that an application can or should only be for one impairment, or one type of impairment (for example, physical or mental). This simply is not true.

In our law office, people regularly come to see us who are unable to work at a full-time job due to a combination of health problems. If you have more than one medical condition, the Social Security Administration (SSA) must take into consideration all of your impairments when deciding whether or not you qualify for disability benefits.

For example, let’s say you have a disease like arthritis which causes chronic pain, and another illness that affects your respiratory system like asthma. Or you have carpel tunnel syndrome, as well as panic disorder. While the symptoms of these diseases, on their own, may not prevent you from working, when they act together, they may be disabling.

When considering whether you qualify for benefits, SSA first determines whether you match the medical criteria in the “Blue Book,” the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) list of disabling conditions. If an individual’s symptoms match the requirements in the listings, they will likely qualify for disability benefits. However, even if your impairments don’t exactly match the Blue Book requirements, if your combination of impairments is severe enough, you may still qualify. This is called “equaling” a listing.

Most people do not have impairments that meet or equal a listing. In most situations, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will instead look at your residual functional capability (RFC); that is, what you can still do despite your impairments. If, considering your age, education, and work experience, your conditions or combination of conditions causes you limitations that prevent you from performing any work activity, you may qualify for benefits. In other words, the number of specific diagnoses or illnesses is very often less important than how the actual impairments limit your ability to function on a day-to-day basis. (For more on RFCs click here.) Even mild conditions—for example, anxiety around people or occasional incontinence—must be considered during a RFC evaluation. For this reason, any health condition which could affect your ability to work should be included in your disability application.

In summary, all of your health problems should be reported on your application for benefits, and you should receive treatment for all of your conditions as well. While not all impairments are created equal, knowledgeable and skilled legal guidance will help you in determining how your combination of impairments can help to win your case. An easy way to get started is to contact the local Chicago attorneys at Nash Disability Law for a free evaluation of your situation.