Providing full medical documentation when applying for Social Security Disability benefits is essential, as many people in Illinois know. Unfortunately, many individuals overlook the importance of including all of their physical and mental impairments on their SSD applications.
Some severe physical or mental conditions automatically merit benefits. However, many disabling conditions do not independently meet the Social Security Administration’s strict standards. The SSA uses a two-step process to evaluate whether a person is disabled. The inclusion of all impairments can be important during either step.
The SSA initially considers whether an applicant suffers from a condition included in the book Disability Evaluation Under Social Security. Medical eligibility for SSD benefits is automatically established if the individual suffers from a condition and meets its listing terms. Otherwise, the SSA considers whether the individual qualifies for a medical-vocational allowance.
Including multiple unrelated conditions on an SSD application will not help an applicant meet one impairment listing. However, an applicant can “equal” an impairment listing if his or her conditions and symptoms are equal in severity to a listed condition. Applicants who include the full range of conditions and symptoms that they experience are more likely to “equal” a listing.
The inclusion of secondary impairments can be decisive if applicants do not meet or equal any impairment listings. The SSA must directly consider how an applicant’s physical and mental conditions affect the applicant’s ability to work. The combined effects of various conditions are often more disabling than the effects of a single condition, so the SSA may be more likely to grant a medical-vocational allowance.
Many applicants overlook impairments because they don’t consider them relevant or disabling. However, even minor conditions or symptoms can influence the final decision. Applicants should document all of the following impairments:
- Adverse side effects of treatments or medications. In severe cases, these effects can be disabling before other symptoms are taken into account.
- Mental or emotional disorders. Conditions such as anxiety must meet strict criteria to be considered disabling. However, in conjunction with other impairments, these conditions may be highly debilitating.
- Emotional consequences of other conditions. Physical impairments may give rise to conditions such as depression. These conditions can exaggerate the effects of other disabilities by reducing an individual’s ability to concentrate, sleep or cope with physical pain.
It is important for applicants to include all impairments when initially applying for SSD benefits. This helps an applicant maintain credibility. If a claim is denied, the applicant may be tempted to focus on secondary conditions and impairments when appealing the decision. The SSA may question the legitimacy of those impairments, since they were omitted from the initial application.