When you apply for Social Security disability or SSI, the Social Security office gives you a packet of forms to fill out. The forms give Social Security information about you, the nature of your medical problems, the names and addresses of the doctors that have been treating you, and details about your work history, among other things. I recently took on a case involving an error in the work history report. Had the claimant filled out that form accurately when applying for disability, the claim already would have been granted.
Social Security evaluates every case according the to the 5 step sequential evaluation process. Step 4 is a determination whether or not you can return to your past relevant work. "Past relevant work" is work in the past 15 years that was perfomed at the SGA level. If you could return to past relevant work, Social Security denies your disability claim. All Social Security does at step 4 is match your physical and mental abilities to the physical and mental requirements of the previous work. So, for example, if your doctor limits you to lifting less than 10 pounds, and your past work required you to lift 20 pounds occasionally, then you cannot do your past work. Social Security would then proceed to step 5, which is a determination of whether or not you can perform other work.
At step 5, however, Social Security takes into account your age, and makes some assumptions about whether a person at an advanced age could transition to other work. This is why claimants over 50 years old have a much better chance of being found disabled. But you never get to these claimant-friendly rules unless you get past step 4. That is one reason why it is very important to rule out your past work.
When considering the requirements of your past work, Social Security looks at the work history report you completed when you applied for disability. In this new case of mine, the treating physician limited the claimant to lifting less than ten pounds. During my initial interview, the claimant stated that it was necessary to lift over 10 pounds at the past jobs. Since my new client was over 50 years old, had a sedentary residual functional capacity and an unskilled work background, the claimant would be found disabled at step 5. Great case!
Unfortunately, the claimant did not pay attention when completing the work history report, and stated that it was only necessary to lift "Less than 10 lbs" for the previous jobs. Social Security denied the claim at step 4, finding that the claimant had the capacity to return to past work. And that was the right decision based upon the information given.
Now, once the claimant came to me, I submitted an amended work history report that reflects the actual lifting required by the claimant's past work. There are also other physical limitations other than just the lifting. So the claim will probably get granted. But the claimant will likely have to wait for a hearing before an ALJ, which takes about a year in Maine. Had the work history report been completed accurately initially, the claimant would already be receiving disability benefits.