People applying for Social Security disability benefits often have more than one illness or injury that is causing their disability, making them unable to work a full-time job. Impairments that are not limiting enough on their own to qualify you for disability may still help your application when the combined effects of all of your medical conditions are considered together. The law requires the Social Security Administration to consider the “combined effects” of impairments – both physical and mental or emotional – when making a decision about disability. The combined effects of such impairments may be disabling, even though each illness or condition individually may not be. That is why it is important for medical care providers to put all of your symptoms in their medical records.
Sometimes people hesitate to file for disability benefits because what they think their major disability is bad, but not severe. And too often claimants do not tell either Social Security or their doctors about all of their symptoms. This happens for two main reasons. First, many people with chronic illnesses do not realize they also suffer from something else, like depression. Second, because they do not understand the law, they do not realize that a combination of all disabilities and symptoms may add up to winning benefits.
The Blue Book requirements for mental impairments require Social Security to consider how limited your activities of daily living and social functioning are and whether you have problems with concentration or finishing tasks in a timely manner. Physical impairments often affect these areas as well. Social Security must consider the effect of your physical impairments when determining whether you meet the listing requirements for a mental impairment. Likewise, your mental impairments may have effects that increase the severity of your physical impairments. For example, even moderate anxiety and depression can decrease your tolerance for pain. Social Security is required by law to consider the effects of your mental and physical impairments together.
If the combined effects of your various impairments do not equal any specific listing in the Blue Book, you may still be able to prove that your impairments are so severe that they prevent you from working full time. Social Security will assess your physical and mental limitations to come up with your “residual functional capacity,” or “RFC.” Your RFC describes what you are able to do despite the combined effects of all your impairments. The RFC assessment indicates whether your exertional (strength-related) restrictions limit you to sedentary work, light work, or medium work, and also includes any specific non-exertional limitations you have. For example, physically you may not be able to reach overhead, bend or stoop, use hand and foot controls, and be exposed to excessive fumes. Mentally, you may be limited in your ability to work with the general public or with supervisors and coworkers, or you may require extra training and supervision. The more limitations you have, the more likely you will be found unable to work.
By: Joyce Trudeau of Premier Disability Services, LLC®