Environmental impairments are conditions which cause it to be difficult or impossible for a person to tolerate conditions related to noise, light, chemicals, particular temperatures, air conditions, or other environmental conditions. They are considered non-exertional impairments by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to differentiate them from exertional impairments, which relate directly to a person’s ability to physically or mentally perform work.
The SSA does take environmental impairments into account when considering a Social Security disability claim. However, in order for an SSDI, SSI, or other disability claim to be approved solely on the basis of environmental impairments, a claimant must meet the same stringent requirements as those with other kinds of disabilities. Namely, to qualify for benefits, the claimant must be able to show medically verifiable evidence that he or she is unable to continue working in any available field for which he or she is qualified, has experience, or could reasonably be trained.
In a nutshell, this means that you need to convince the SSA that there are no jobs available anywhere in the country which you are qualified for that could accommodate your environmental impairment. That’s a tall order for most environmental impairments.
Many have trouble wrapping their heads around the idea that they don’t qualify for Social Security disability if they were approved for disability programs through their employer’s insurance. The reasoning is simple; The SSA uses completely different standards than employers and their disability insurers do.
To qualify for most employer-funded disability programs or for private disability income insurance, you generally only have to show that you can no longer perform the job the company was employing you to do (in some cases, this is broadened to include other positions the company may have available which could accommodate your disability). To qualify for disability through the SSA, however, you need to show that you can’t reasonably be expected to continue any form of gainful employment anywhere in the country due to your disability. The requirements are considerably more stringent.
If you have an environmental restriction, consult a Social Security lawyer. He or she will be able to help you determine whether you have a legitimate disability claim.
If you are claiming Social Security disability benefits, and have an environmental impairment, you should include all of the pertinent information about it in your claim and medical file. You should do so even if the environmental impairment isn’t the condition upon which you are basing your claim. The reasoning behind this is simple: The SSA will make a decision on your claim based on all of your disabling conditions. If you have several disabling conditions which would not individually qualify you for disability benefits, you may still qualify based on the total effects of all of your medical and mental conditions.
Like any non-exterional impairment or exertional impairment, it is important for you to have substantial medical documentation regarding your environmental impairment. Your medical records should ideally indicate that you are under a physician’s care for the condition and that the condition has not improved despite all attempts to treat it.