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Many people either need or will need social security/disability benefits through their lives. Social security and disability benefits exist to help people who suffer from injuries so severe, they can no longer perform the job functions they used to and it’s difficult to impossible for them to find employment in other fields.

Broadly speaking, in order to qualify for social security or disability benefits, Denver disability lawyers will evaluate whether a person falls into the “disabled” category. While disabled has a lay meaning, there is a specific legal definition that Denver disability attorneys apply to individuals to see if they will be a good candidate for social security/disability benefits.

There are two main programs through the Social Security Act for which people generally apply. The first, called Old Age Survivors and Disability Insurance (OASDI), gives insurance to workers who lose earnings unexpectedly because of injury, retirement, or death. The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program gives people who qualify for welfare based on means disability payments.

Both of the programs identify “disability” as the inability “to engage in substantial gainful activity by reason or any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted to can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §§423(d)(1)(A).

So what does that mean for someone who believes he or she might be disabled? Firstly, it means there must be medical documentation of the disability. It isn’t enough to believe you’re disabled or know you can’t work the way you used to—there has to be a doctor who signs off on a specific physical or mental impairment. The severity of the impairment, also, has to be chronic/long-lasting and can be expected to result in death or has been occurring for at least a year. It’s a morbid definition to be sure.

Related: Denver Workers’ Compensation Case Review: Duty to Report Injuries

The more difficult part to consider, however, is that Social Security benefits have to be applied for through the Social Security Administration (SSA). The Administration receives hundreds upon hundreds of applications and each one has to be individually reviewed to make sure the disability is severe enough and the documentation extensive enough for the applying party to qualify under the narrow legal definition of disability. The Administration does its best to award benefits to people who qualify but there are a series of legal hoops interested parties must jump through in order to qualify for awards. Due to the sheer volume of applications, many people who qualify for benefits are denied when they first apply.

If you’ve applied for disability benefits in the past and qualify under the specific definition of disability but were denied benefits, don’t worry because you’re not alone. The SSA is a large organization and, like many large organizations, has an immense, bureaucratic structure that often keeps individuals from receiving the benefits to which they are entitled. Luckily, those who the SSA denies benefits can seek review from federal judges. The average federal circuit court has to decide almost 400 disability cases alone each year. There are five steps to evaluating a disability status claim, which judges go through each time they need to check on an individual’s application for disability benefits.

The judges look first at whether the person applying for disability benefits currently perform work defined in terms of substantial gainful activity. Secondly, the judges see if the applicant suffers a medically severe impairment that limits his/her ability to perform work. Thirdly, the judges see whether the impairment is listed as a recognized impairment that doesn’t allow the applicant to engage in substantial gainful activity. Fourthly, the judges check if the impairment keeps the applicant from performing his/her previous work, and finally, if the applicant has the capacity to perform any other work in the economy. An applicant needs to go through these steps to prove he or she qualifies for disability benefits, which can be a lengthy and complicated process filled with pitfalls and proof problems. Not everyone has the energy for this kind of drawn-out battle for benefits, which is where disability lawyers can be a big help advocating for benefits.

Workers’ Compensation and Social Security/Disability can be difficult, confusing, and very complex. Kaplan Morrell has helped thousands of injured workers since 1997 get the benefits they deserve. Contact us here or call us at(866) 356-9898 for your free consultation.

Source: TENTH CIRCUIT SURVEY: Social Security, 74 Denv. U.L. Rev. 519.