A common reason for denial is that the SSA believes you are still capable of performing work you did in the past. When the SSA evaluates your ability to work, it looks not only at your most recent job but also at positions you have previously held, sometimes going back as far as 15 years.

If you were denied Social Security disability based on your ability to do past work, you have the right to appeal the SSA’s decision. Eventually, you can plead your case in front of a judge, and you are allowed to have an attorney present. To reverse the decision, you must present evidence that you can no longer perform any of your previous jobs or any other jobs for which you are qualified.

Why Employment History Matters in Social Security Decisions

The SSA is the organization that determines disability to provide income to individuals who are unable to work and earn a living for themselves. The primary factor to get approved is thus the inability to work. If the SSA believes you are capable of working, it will not give you benefits.

To evaluate your ability to work, the SSA uses an extensive process. It looks at every job you have held over the previous 15 years and decides, one by one, if it thinks you can still do those jobs based on your current medical condition.

Example of Social Security Disability Evaluation Process

Imagine you spent the last five years loading trucks for a shipping company. The job required being on your feet for an eight-hour shift and lifting objects weighing up to 50 pounds. After injuring your back, you filed for disability, submitting medical evidence showing that you can no longer lift more than 30 pounds, nor can you remain on your feet for long intervals.

Along with your disability application, however, the SSA requires you to submit your complete work history going back 15 years. This work history shows that before your job with the shipping company, you worked in a clerical position that required no lifting and minimal standing. Nothing in your medical evidence suggests you would be incapable of returning to that role. The SSA denies your disability application based on your ability to do past work.

The SSA Also Considers Education, Certification, and Job Training

The SSA is so strict on work capability that it has been known even to deny applicants who demonstrate they cannot return to any job they have done in the past. Aside from your work history, the SSA looks into your education, certifications, and job training. It wants to see if you have any skills that might transfer to another job, one you may not have done in the past but that you would be capable of learning.

To assist in this process, the SSA frequently enlists a person known as a vocational expert (VE). The VE has extensive knowledge of

  • The local job market
  • Skills needed for each available job
  • Limitations that might prevent someone from doing these jobs

If you are granted a hearing in front of an administrative law judge (ALJ), a VE is usually present at your hearing alongside the judge. The judge will ask the VE his or her opinion on which jobs you can perform and whether any of those jobs have high availability in your local market. Your attorney is allowed to cross-examine the VE, potentially sowing seeds of doubt as to your actual ability to perform available jobs.

How to Prove You Are Incapable of Performing Past Work

The most convincing way to make the case that you can no longer do past work is to have your doctor complete a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) test. This exam measures the level of functionality you still have after your disability and assigns a rating indicating the type of work you are capable of doing.

Your RFC rating might be for medium, light, sedentary, or less than sedentary work. In addition to your rating, your RFC results may list specific jobs or duties that, due to your condition, you cannot perform. For instance, you might get rated for medium work, with the exception that due to a shoulder condition you cannot lift more than 20 pounds overhead.

Take Advantage of a Free Case Evaluation Today

Before applying for Social Security disability, schedule a free case evaluation with an attorney at the Disability Advantage Group. We can provide you with the information needed to make the right legal choice for your situation. To schedule an appointment, call us at 865-566-0800.