Social Security Disability Reduces How Much Past Work You Must Document

June 3, 2024

What do video store clerks, movie theater projectionists, VCR repair people, switchboard operators, typesetters, and encyclopedia sales representatives all have in common?

Their jobs are among those that have become obsolete in the past decade or more.

In the not-too-distant future, travel agents, assembly-line workers, taxi dispatchers, telemarketers, and many others could also find that their jobs no longer exist. Like the rest of our world, the workplace is changing faster than ever.

Acknowledging that jobs change over the years and skills learned from jobs in the distant past may no longer be relevant in today’s work environment, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has updated a key regulation which applies to the fourth step of its disability benefits evaluation process.

To understand how this rule change will reduce the burden for Americans with disabilities who are seeking the benefits they have rightfully earned, let’s examine the five-step evaluation process the SSA uses in judging whether you qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments.

Step 1: The SSA will want to know if you are working and earning more than $1,550 per month. This is the  “Substantial Gainful Activity” dollar amount for 2024 and is subject to change from year to year. If you’re earning more than this, Social Security will not find that you have a qualifying disability, absent special circumstances.

Step 2: The SSA asks the question “Is your condition severe?” That is, do your medical problems interfere with your basic work-related activities? If they do, then Social Security will move on to step three.

Step 3: If you pass the first two steps, the SSA will review your medical records to determine whether your disability matches one of the stringent requirements of the conditions included in its “Listing of Impairments”.

Step 4: If your ailments don’t qualify at step 3, Social Security will decide if your medical condition prevents you from doing any of the work you have done in the past. If Social Security determines that you can resume your past work, your claim will be denied. If your medical condition makes it impossible for you to perform your past work, then Social Security will proceed to step 5.

Step 5: Social Security will look at your situation and decide if you are able to adjust to other work. The burden is on the SSA to prove you are able to adjust to other work. Social Security will consider your medical conditions, your age, education, past work experience, and any transferable skills you may have. If you cannot adjust to other work, your claim likely will be approved. If Social Security believes you can adjust to other work, your claim will be denied.

What changed is this: Previously in step 4, Social Security would examine your past relevant work going back 15 years. The new rule, adopted earlier this month, changes the past relevant work period from 15 years to five years.

This is a significant (and in our view, common sense) change to the disability evaluation process.

There are many good reasons for the change. In proposing the rule revision, the SSA said, “Changing the relevant work period from the prior 15 years to five years…will better account for the diminishing relevance of work skills over time and reduce the burden on individuals applying for disability.”

Reducing the burden on disability applicants means that when you apply you won’t have to remember (and describe in detail) 15 years of past work.

The Social Security Disability claims system is complex and confusing. More than two out of three first-time Social Security Disability claims are denied.

But don’t give up. For a free evaluation of your case contact Nash Disability Law where you have a dedicated team of Chicago disability lawyers and professionals in your corner who understand the system and will fight for your rights.