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Does my Work History Matter When Qualifying for Social Security Disability?

Benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) remove some of the financial strain from individuals and families when disability strikes. Eligibility depends on various factors though, including previous employment for adults who apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Work history, including the kinds of jobs you’ve traditionally held, can also play a role in how easily you’re able to you’re eligible for disability.

Available Disability Programs and Work History Requirements

Benefits may be available to you through the SSDI and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs.

  • SSI requires no work history at all, because it’s a program for the most financially needy among the disabled population.
  • For SSDI however, you must have a fairly recent work history and must additionally have paid Social Security taxes on your income.

Your work history translates to work credits with the SSA, and these credits make you a “covered” or “insured” person for SSDI as well as old age or retirement benefits.

How does my work history affect my claim?

SSDI Benefits, SGA Work, and MVA Qualification

Basic SSDI eligibility requires a disability so severe that you cannot participate in “substantial gainful activity” or SGA. This essentially means you’re unable to earn a living because of your medical condition(s).

You may qualify under one of the SSA’s Blue Book disability listings, which proves you cannot perform SGA work and are therefore entitled to benefits. Not all applicants qualify through the Blue Book though. Some must instead go through a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) evaluation and be granted benefits under a Medical Vocational Allowance (MVA).

To approve an MVA, the SSA must see:

  • you can no longer work in your traditional field of employment

    AND

  • you can’t succeed in any other field either.

To make this determination, they’ll review your age, education, job qualifications, and employment history, in addition to your medical records. These factors combined must show SGA level work isn’t possible for you. Because of this, older applicants and those with fewer transferable job skills are more likely to achieve benefits through an MVA.

For example, a machine operator has a physical disability that stops her from performing essential job duties in her traditional line of work. As a person with only factory work experience, she couldn’t easily get an office, even if her disability wouldn’t stop her performing sedentary job duties. The SSA may grant an MVA in a case like this because the applicant’s work history shows she can’t find and keep an SGA level job.

Getting Help with Your Disability Claim

No matter your work history, don’t be intimidated by the disability application or eligibility review processes, especially since you don’t have to go through it alone. A friend, family member, or someone else can help you apply. You may additionally seek guidance from disability advocate or hire an attorney to handle your claim.

An attorney can help you make a stronger argument for eligibility. If you must go through an RFC, a disability lawyer’s assistance increases the likelihood of an MVA approval as well. If you’re denied by the SSA, and must therefore appeal the decision, an attorney can increase your chances of winning disability benefits at the appeal hearing too.

Comments

I'm looking for someone I know. She had and I seen her house was foreclosed in she left me a deposit on a vehicle and want to give it to her
My number is if you know her location or any info.

Hi Robert,
Unfortunately we would not have any information on her whereabouts as we are not affiliated with the SSA and as such would not have that information.

Hi Russel,
If you're already receiving disability benefits, it may be a good idea to contact the SSA to find out how you might be able to work while on disability.

I have shoulder rotator cuff tear, cervical spine nerve root compression, sleep apnea, carpal tunnel surgery done, PTSD, anxiety disorder. all these have been diagnosed by professional Doctors and I have a lawyer. What are my chance of winning in front of a administrative law Judge?

Hi Howard,
I really couldn't say for sure, but all that seems pretty positive! It's really important to be prepared, and having a lawyer can go a long way.

I had stage 3 breast cancer & one of my big surgeries 1 yr after my last chemotherapy treatment went a little wrong & a vein had to b removed from my right upper arm & it limited my range of motion & I had some mental issues nothing big. Well I was denied my first time & had to get a lawyer. Well 3 other people got it on there first try but they r older than me. My mom for a bone disease my grandfather for cancer in his brain, throat & lymphnoids & my x father in law for cancer. So it determines on all kinds of different factors for when or how soon u would or wouldn't get approved.

I'm hoping to visit the U. K. for a year or two. Will I be able to retain my disability benefits while there? I'm over 50 with RA and would like to travel while I still can.

I have an adult child living with me who has Aspergers, OCD, and Depression. She is almost 20 years old. She has a part time job but can not seem to land meaningful employment, My question has 2 parts. 1). Should I help her apply for disability? I worry how she will take care of herself when I am gone. 2). Can she continue working her part time job if she is approved for disability, can she even apply for disability while she's working a part time job?

Hi Crystal,
You can certainly help her, but her approval will depend on how much she is working. If she's earning more than $1,130 per month, she will not qualify for disability benefits. If she's earning less, feel free to schedule an appointment at your local SSA office to get the ball rolling.

Hi crystal, I saw your comment and wanted to suggest that you look into programs for individuals with disabilities, through your state. In California the regional center provides multiple supports that help with obtaining and maintaining work, housing, as well as assistance with filing for disability benefits. Not all states are as generous but wouldn't hurt to ask.

My husband retired and is receiving Social Security Income. He recently had a stroke. Can he apply for the disability benefits?

HI Mona,
If he is receiving SSI based on his income, then he may not be eligible for SSDI benefits.

I am a 50 year old female who left the workforce in 1999, but worked for 10 years prior to that making good money I know enough o qualify for retirement income from SS. I have herniated disks and degenerative disk disease in both my lower back and neck, I have HBP, Hypothyroid, carpel tunnel and multiple sclerosis. I show positive on the one test that definitely shows Lupus but I am not positive for ANA and my most recent lower back MRI shows bon edema indicative of RA and fibromyalgia and migraines as a result of neck issues spinal stenosis, crack in dens, and a host of other issues with the neck and lower back. I had a chlectomy last Nov to remove bone spurs from big toe and have bone spurs throughout spine. My question has to be what if any hope do I have at qualifying based on how long I have been out of workforce yet having earned enough credits but not in last ten years. We need me to return to work to offset college expenses and to hire a person to do household chores I am unable to perform anymore. Is it possible for me to qualify or am I completely without hope of being accepted and awarded disability based on my work history timeline? Is there another program/option for working women who left the workforce after working for several years to stay home and then find themselves too sick to return to the workforce.

Hi Rhonda,
Unfortunately, you may not qualify for benefits as the SSA may require that you have worked at least five of the last ten years.

Psoriatic arthritis in flare up mode for 11 months, resulting significant pain and worsening symptoms, squamous cell carcinoma 9/16, uvietus leading to potential blindness 12/16, due to stress on job after approval of intermittent FMLA on 1/5/16. Even EEOC told me they are skirting the law and to get another job but I can't look for another job because of my medical condition and numerous doctors appts could cause me to get fired on a new job. I'm stuck and suffering. I've been told to look into workmans comp for stress related job injury and possibly disability. I have lots of documentation and can point to a specific incident (with the VP of the company-HR documented) that started my physical deterioration. Even my rheumatoloigist has told me I will not get better until my job stress gets better. My personal life is fine. No stresses. I'm depressed due to chronic pain and stress at work. I've got memory problems. Is it worth looking into workmans comp and disability? My annual income dropped from $69k in 2015 to $35k in 2016 doing the exact same job. I just was told the psoriatic arthritis inflammation is now affecting my vision and could potentially result in blindness. Am I a candidate for workmans comp, disability, and/or retaliatory action for going on FMLA? Management has made it much more difficult for me to make commissions since FMLA was approved... 50% less income. I await a reply. Feel free to email me.

I have several medical issues affecting my ability to work. I just quit my job due to the fact unable to sit. I was employed for 3 years. Prior work as nurse 1987-1999. I also work doing a network marketing business. Does the network marketing business count as previous work history? Ido receive monthly check with my network business.

Hi Louise,
If you've paid FICA payroll taxes for at least five of the last ten years, you may be eligible for SSDI benefits.

If a divorced parent on SSI disability, receives SSI child support for the children living in the home, and also receives child support payments from the other parent living outside the home, does he/she have to report those child support payments to SSI?

Hi Marie,
If someone is on SSI benefits, they must report any earned or unearned income to the SSA.

I am working now and would like to continue. My Diabetes is progressing and I have concerns to how long I will be able to remain working. Also have a history of depression which I have battled for many years. Still in my early 50's so I am beginning to feel concerned about what my options are. A friend recommended that I look into the possibility of filing for disability. I would like to continue working part-time however. Can you work part-time?

Hi Sara,

I am very sorry to hear that. You can still work on SSI, as long as it doesn't go over the monthly SGA amount. SGA stands for Substantial Gainful Activity. In 2017, that amount is $1,170/month for non-blind disabled applicants.

Best Wishes,
Eric

I am a case manager in a hospital and have a young woman as a patient. She had a stroke and is totally incapacitated. Husband was told by SSA that she did not qualify for SSDI due to work credits...short by 3. What can I do to assist him? Is there a possibility of getting approved with appeal

Hi there,
She may be eligible for SSI benefits, however those are means-tested, and have a different application process.

I have worked in the health field as a Unit Sec/CNA for over 40 yrs. I have had two hip replacements and need a right knee replacement. I am currently receiving disability in Milw. Wi. and my marriage is dissolving, I am 62 yrs. old and want to move back home to Bflo. N.Y. where I have family. I don't know what to do first in transferring my health and disability benefits back to Buffalo, N.Y......can you please help me?

I have a friend with mental disabilities who has been living off a trust his parents set up for him. He is starting to panic and could probably use a social worker to find him work and help him keep his home. He is in Pasadena. Where should he start?

I AM AN NYS LICENSE HOLDER FOR COSMETOLOGY AND BARBER AND HAVE WORKED IN THIS FIELD INCE HONORABLE DISCHARGED FROM U.S. ARMY IN 1969 after three yrs. service and now after being in the business up to 2017 from 1970 the body cant stand behind a chair holding a blow dryer at one hour at a time for each coustomer. having trouble with right hip that may need hip replacement surgery from falling off a missle launcher in Germany in ice storm.va hospital has all documentation for meds prescribed for CPI, BRONCHIECTASIS , HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE ,ASTHMA CRONIC bronchiectasis hearing aid device and audiology reports an optometrist reports on eye glasses perscriptions. Will social security disability accept the va hospital dr. reports on my health conditions an eligibility to collect SSDI ? THANKING YOU IN ADVANCE.

Hi George,
You may be eligible for SSA retirement benefits, however because you have been able to work up until now, the SSA may decline to award you SSDI benefits.

I was diagnosed with ptsd every job I get will last no more than a week so I tried to enroll in school that didn't last long because I get sever anxiety in front of a lot of ppl im only 30 and I have two babies to care for by my self can I get disability

Hi Ashley,
You may be eligible for disability benefits, it may be a good idea to speak with a representative at your local SSA office.