|Natalia Jofre:||Welcome to the Hill & Ponton Social Security Disability Blog. I’m Natalia Jofre, I’m the Director for our Social Security section here at our law firm.|
|Shelly Campbell:||My name is Shelly Campbell and I am the Senior Social Security attorney here.|
|Natalia Jofre:||In our previous blog we talked about the sequential evaluation process. What that is basically, a series of questions, a series of rules that Social Security looks at to see if a person meets in order to qualify for disability benefits. Do you want to do quick recap on what those are?|
|Shelly Campbell:||Sure. The sequential evaluation process is really just five steps that Social Security uses to determine if someone is eligible for benefits. They are whether the individual is working, whether they suffer from a severe medical condition that prevents them from working, whether they meet certain listings, whether they can perform their past work or whether they can perform other work.|
|Natalia Jofre:||What we’re going to do today is talk about the very first one which is obviously very critical, whether the person is working. In future blogs, we’re going to talk about each of the steps, what they mean, how they’re applied, how Social Security basically looks at your case. Today, is the person working? There is an amount, the magic number, every year they come up with a new amount. If you want to know what that amount is, go to our website, we’ll have it listed there. Basically, if you’re making more than that amount, you can’t qualify for benefits.|
|Shelly Campbell:||That’s correct. No matter how disabled a person is, if they’re earning over what Social Security considers substantial gainful activity, they’re ineligible for benefits regardless.|
|Natalia Jofre:||The only exception would be?|
|Shelly Campbell:||For the blindness. There is an exception for people that are legally blind.|
|Natalia Jofre:||They have their own amount, it’s much higher that what a “regular person” would need to be under in order to qualify for benefits. There are different exceptions that can be applied, I feel like it’s important for us to say that we recommend that our clients not work, it makes your case much more difficult to prove.|
|Shelly Campbell:||Definitely, because the first step is really for Social Security to determine, has the individual been out of work for 12 consecutive months or do they plan to be out of work for 12 consecutive months. You can see how if you are actively working, you’re already starting in a more difficult position.|
|Natalia Jofre:||I can think of some cases like with breast cancer where a woman has been out of work, she’s newly diagnosed, she’s immediately treated, sometimes she can even have like a partial mastectomy. We’ve had clients that have literally been able to go back to work within six months. It’s not common place but it does happen. If that happens, you’re not going to meet that 12 months definition and you’re not going to qualify for benefits. By the same token we’ve seen people that have been out of work for 12 months or more but then they are able to go back to work. Social Security really likes those cases, don’t they?|
|Shelly Campbell:||They do. Those are called closed periods of benefits, and that is where an individual is injured or is diagnosed with some medical condition that takes them out of the workforce for 12 or more months. With treatment, they are able to get back into the workforce. It doesn’t mean that they still don’t have a claim for disability benefits, we simply ask Social Security to pay them for the time they were not working.|
|Natalia Jofre:||We see that happen a lot with people that have been involved in auto accidents. They have a really traumatic event, they’d go through physical therapy, they get better, 14 or 15 months later they’re able to go back to work. Judges like those cases because basically they feel like we’re going to pay you the benefits for the time you were out, but now you’re off of our payroll is basically the way Social Security looks at it.|
|Shelly Campbell:||Social Security and especially the judges really like to see the initiative of someone that has been injured but has been able to go through treatment, and then puts themselves back into the workforce.|
|Natalia Jofre:||Other people that can work and still qualify for benefits potentially would be people that are in sheltered work.|
|Shelly Campbell:||That’s correct. Sheltered work would be considered if someone is working for a friend or a family member, and accommodations are being made for them that wouldn’t normally be made if it were not the friend or the family member employing them.|
|Natalia Jofre:||Another exception sometimes are like organizations like Goodwill, Salvation Army. A lot of people are required to work in order to stay at the Salvation Army, but it’s normally maybe one or two hours a day and it’s very kind of like low level, not difficult work. They’re going to consider things like that, like what type of work are they doing, how much they’re making. Sometimes they’re not even paid, sometimes it’s just an exchange for room and board.|
|Shelly Campbell:||That’s true. In a lot of cases whether or not an individual is volunteering can also come into play. Even though they’re not earning income if they are volunteering on a regular basis, that is going to be considered employment as well.|
|Natalia Jofre:||Right, because Social Security’s mindset is, well, you’re not getting paid to do this work, but then they’re looking at what is your ability to work. You’re volunteering, you’re probably are able to work if it’s a significant amount of time.|
|Shelly Campbell:||Exactly, and you’re correct, they’re definitely going to look at the type of work you’re doing, the hours that you’re working and the earnings that you’re making to determine how substantial that work is.|
|Natalia Jofre:||Our next blog is going to be dedicated to the blindness rules, requirements, the exceptions made for them in terms of working. Please stay tuned if you like more information on that. If you like more information regarding the topics we discussed today or regarding a disability claim, feel free to contact our office or visit our website at hillandponton.com. Thanks for watching and we’ll see you next time.|
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