As I review Social Security disability files to prepare for hearings, I have noticed that the “Summary Earnings Report,” which is found in the “D” exhibits in the disability claim file, is sometimes incomplete. Lately I have had several claims where the report only dates back 15 years from onset.
In one respect, an earnings report dating back 15 years prior to onset makes sense. Past relevant work goes back 15 years. So an earnings report dating back 15 years makes sense in terms of establishing whether or not past work was performed at the level of substantial gainful activity. For this reason, the “Detailed Earnings Query” in the file only goes back 15 years.
But that is not the only role played by an earnings record. Workers with an excellent work history are entitled to a favorable credibility inference.
A claimant’s credibility is at the heart of a Social Security disability claim. The judge must determine if the claimant’s subjective symptoms are as severe as alleged. This necessarily requires a credibility determination.
A strong work record bolsters the conclusion that, since the claimant has worked for 30+ years, he or she would be working currently if able. A person doesn’t work for 30 years and then stop and apply for disability for no reason. It is a common-sense conclusion. As a result, the work record affects the administrative law judge’s determination whether or not the claimant’s impairments are preventing continued work.
To support the favorable inference however, you should have the complete earnings history, not just the last 15 years. So make sure it is in the file somewhere. Often the claim file will contain a “certified earnings record” that shows complete earnings. If not, request a complete report from the local office.
As always, mention the strong work record in you hearing brief and in your opening/closing statement.