What is Substantial Gainful Activity?

Posted January 15, 2021 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

In evaluating whether you are disabled, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will first look to whether you are currently working. If you are working part-time and not earning much money, you won’t automatically be denied disability benefits, but doing a substantial amount of work (such as working full-time) guarantees that you’ll be denied benefits. Here’s why.

Bottom of Form

As part of its definition of disability, the SSA requires that a disability claimant (applicant) be unable to perform what it calls substantial gainful activity (SGA).

Substantial gainful activity is generally work that brings in over a certain dollar amount per month. In 2021, that amount is $1,310 for non-blind disabled SSDI or SSI applicants, and $2,190 for blind SSDI applicants (the SGA limit doesn’t apply to blind SSI applicants). If you are making more than that amount per month, the SSA presumes that you must not be disabled (in their words, that you “are able to engage in competitive employment”). In deciding whether you are doing SGA, Social Security does not count any income you obtain from non-work sources, such as interest, investments, or gifts.

Low earnings, however, don’t necessarily establish that you’re unable to work. The SSA will consider the circumstances under which you performed work. For example, where a disability applicant had worked as a substitute bus driver, the court found that he was doing SGA because his low earnings did not indicate that he was unable to work, and his income was less than it could be because of the on-call nature of the job. The SSA can even consider volunteer activities and criminal activities as SGA if they represent substantial work for which someone would ordinarily be paid (but the agency will not consider hobbies or school attendance to be SGA).

Similarly, high earnings don’t necessarily mean the disability claimant was doing SGA, if he or she was working under special conditions. Claimants can argue that their income would have been lower but for the fact that the claimant:

  • required special assistance from other employees in performing the work
  • was allowed to work irregular hours or take frequent rest breaks
  • was provided with special equipment or assigned work especially suited to his or her impairment
  • was able to work only because of specially arranged circumstances (for example, other people helped the claimant get to and from work)
  • was permitted to work at a lower standard of productivity or efficiency than other employees, and/or
  • was given the opportunity to work despite his or her impairment because of a family relationship, past association with the employer, or the employer’s concern for the claimant’s welfare.

Individuals who work and earn gross monthly income exceeding the SGA threshold are not considered disabled and are ineligible to receive benefits, unless they were working under one of special circumstances discussed above. Generally, if you are making over $1,310 when you apply, your claim will be denied almost immediately, without a medical review (your medical records will not even be requested or evaluated because you will be considered ineligible for benefits), because how much you are earning is one of the first things the SSA looks at.

If, however, it is determined that your work activity does not amount to substantial gainful activity, you will have passed the first step of the SSA’s five-step evaluation process and your medical eligibility will be considered at the next step of the process.

Contact our office today if you or anyone you know would like to learn more about qualifying for Social Security Disability benefits.

By: Joyce Trudeau of Premier Disability Services, LLC®

January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month

Posted January 8, 2021 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

More than 3 million people in the United States currently suffer with glaucoma. The National Eye Institute projects this number will reach 4.2 million by 2030, a 58 percent increase. Glaucoma is called “the sneak thief of sight” since there are no symptoms and once vision is lost, it’s permanent. As much as 40% of vision can be lost without a person noticing.

If you have glaucoma, you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits under Adult Listings 2.02, 2.03, or 2.04 for your visual disorder. Social Security defines visual disorders as abnormalities of the eye, the optic nerve, the optic tracts, or the brain that may cause a loss of visual acuity or visual fields. A loss of visual acuity limits your ability to distinguish detail, read, or do fine work. A loss of visual fields limits your ability to perceive visual stimuli in the peripheral extent of vision.

To evaluate your visual disorder, Social Security will usually need a report of an eye examination that includes measurements of your best-corrected central visual acuity or the extent of your visual fields, as appropriate. If you have visual acuity or visual field loss, Social Security needs documentation of the cause of the loss. A standard eye examination will usually indicate the cause of any visual acuity loss. A standard eye examination can also indicate the cause of some types of visual field deficits.

If you or someone you know is struggling to work due to glaucoma, or any other health condition, please contact us for a free evaluation of your case!

More about glaucoma awareness: https://www.glaucoma.org/news/glaucoma-awareness-month.php

By: Joyce Trudeau of Premier Disability Services, LLC®

What Does it Mean to Ambulate Effectively?

Posted December 18, 2020 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

There is a wide variety of conditions and impairments that may qualify a person for Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income benefits.  What is important to understand is that the Social Security Administration (SSA) is not as concerned with the diagnosis itself as they are with the limitations that an impairment may impose on an individual’s ability to work. Certain impairments, like lower extremity joint disorders, require SSA to look at a person’s ability to “ambulate effectively” when assessing disability. SSA defines effective ambulation in specific terms.

In order to ambulate or walk effectively, an individual must be able to walk without a hand-held device that would otherwise prevent an individual from using at least one upper extremity to carry items. For example, a person must use his/her hands to operate a walker or a manual wheelchair. Thus, a person using a manual wheelchair or walker would have difficulty with ambulation because such devices require the use of both hands to be operational. Conversely, a person who relies on a cane to walk has an available hand to carry items.

Furthermore, to ambulate effectively, SSA also indicates that a person must be able to walk at a reasonable pace over sufficient distance to carry out activities of daily living. Effective ambulation further requires that a person be capable of walking at a reasonable pace on rough or uneven surfaces for a full block. A person must be capable of walking up a few steps at a reasonable pace with the use of a single hand rail to be considered ambulatory. Finally, a person must be able to use public transportation to carryout routine ambulatory activities like shopping to meet SSA’s requirements for effective ambulation.

For more information on SSA’s definition of “effective ambulation,” please see: https://www.ssa.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook/1.00-Musculoskeletal-Adult.htm .

Contact our office today if you or anyone you know would like to learn more about qualifying for Social Security Disability benefits.

By: Joyce Trudeau of Premier Disability Services, LLC®