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Why Is My Past Work So Important When Filing for Social Security Disability?

  • By:The Law Center for Social Security Rights

When filing for disability, the Social Security Administration (SSA) reviews your past employment. This is one of the steps required in the evaluation process. That is, the SSA is making a determination as to whether you can return to any of your past work while considering your functional limitations. Once again, this is one of the steps required in getting a case approved.

When the SSA reviews your past employment, they go back 15 years.  You must have earned certain amounts of money, and you must have worked long enough to learn the job tasks. The SSA will attempt to determine your previous exertional level.  This means how much you had to stand, walk, sit, and lift at your previous employment.  The SSA will determine whether your job was skilled or unskilled. If the job was skilled, the SSA will decide whether you acquired any transferable skills to other types of employment that may be less physically demanding. 

At your hearing, the Judge (or ALJ) will then use a Vocational Expert (VE) to classify your past job(s).  The VE will attempt to do this by looking at a publication called the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT).  The VE will attempt to assign a code that your past employment corresponds with and will testify as to what exertional level it was performed at, and how it is generally performed.  The VE will give this information to the ALJ to use to further analyze your claim.

With this information in mind, the ALJ will then determine if you can do any of your past relevant work or any other work using the skills you acquired.  If it is determined you cannot, the ALJ will determine if there are other jobs in the economy that you can do with your restrictions.  If the answer is no, you may find yourself with a favorable decision.

Many factors go into this process; details such as transferrable skills, your age, and education can come into play.  In the end, the strength of your medical records can overcome many obstacles your past jobs may present.  This is just a very brief overview as to why you may be questioned about your past employment.  It is in your best interest to have a general idea of the details of your past employment before entering the courtroom so that you are prepared for the ALJ’s questioning.

Posted in: Work Credits