How Does my Work History Affect My Disability Application?

When applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, the first step of the process will be to determine if you are currently eligible for disability benefits due to your illness. The SSA uses a medical guide, known as the Blue Book, to determine whether or not a condition is severe enough to warrant disability payments.

While you may be quite ill, not all applicants will qualify for disability benefits through the Blue Book.

In fact, the majority of applicants are initially denied at this step of the process.

If you are denied benefits through the list of impairments, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will evaluate your remaining abilities, or your Residual Functional Capacity (RFC).

You will need to prove that your current medical condition prohibits you from working your most recent job, a job that you’ve performed in the last 15 years, or any job in which you are qualified for.

This medical-vocational analysis will determine what type of work, if any, that you are capable of performing.

What Is Considered “Past-Relevant Work”?

The SSA will determine your residual functional capacity level and declare whether you are able to do heavy work, medium work, light work, sedentary work, or less than sedentary work. If it has been decided that you can only do less than sedentary work, you will likely qualify for benefits.

However, if you have been assigned any of the other levels of work, the SSA will then decide what type of work you can still perform.

In order to be approved for a medical-vocational allowance (MVA), you will need to prove that you can no longer work in your most recent field of employment and that you can’t succeed in any other job either.

How does my past work history impact my current disability application?

You will be required to complete form SSA-3369, which is a work history report form. This form will help the SSA to understand how your condition might affect your ability to do the work that you are qualified to do.

The information that you provide will include the types of jobs you’ve performed, the skills required to do those jobs, and the physical and mental requirements of each job.

The SSA evaluates only those jobs performed in the last fifteen years of your life. Therefore, if you were an accountant right out of school, but left that career more than fifteen years ago to become a landscape designer, that job will not be considered as “past-relevant work” (PRW).

According to the SSA, past-relevant work must have occurred in the last 15 years, must have earned you a certain dollar amount per month to be considered substantial gainful activity (SGA), and must have lasted long enough for you to have learned the job.

Older workers over the age of 50 may be able to qualify based on their ability to work and the severity of their condition, you can find more information about that here:
Qualifying Over Age 50

How Does This Affect Completing My Work History Report Form?

When completing your work history report form you should be thinking about each job and which aspects of that job would be impossible for you do perform in your current condition.

Some questions that you will want to consider are:

  • Did each job listed occur within the last 15 years?
  • Did I work at this job long enough to learn the skills required for the job?
  • If I was at a job for less than six months, did I leave because the physical or mental requirements were too difficult for me to handle?
  • Did any of these jobs require that I stay overtime to complete the tasks of the job? Was there a mandatory overtime component to any of these jobs?
  • What is the maximum requirement of the job? For example, if you worked in retail you may mostly work at the cash register. However, occasionally you might be required to lift a heavy box. Be certain to include the most difficult aspects of your past jobs
  • What level of mental capacity did it take to perform at your past jobs?
  • Were you able to work to the same capacity as others in the company, or were special considerations made for you due to your condition?

While you want to be honest and clear about your limitations and past-work history, you will also want to display that you are a hard-worker.

Illustrating that you have a stable, long work history will add credibility to your case.

Will I Need Help Proving I Can't Work?

If you are unable to work due to your current condition, it is imperative that you hire an experienced disability attorney or advocate to assist you with your claim. An experienced attorney is well-versed in the requirements of past-relevant work, and can help to ensure that your individual application is handled appropriately. A complete and accurate work-history form can make the difference in winning your claim.