As most people already know, the most common key to winning a Social Security case is to demonstrate that you have a "disability." But way the Social Security Administration determines whether you have a disability can be very confusing.
In order to determine whether an individual is disabled, the SSA follows a multi-step process. The initial steps are usually less challenging. They exist to eliminate cases where a person either doesn't qualify for the SSI program (financial eligibility) or doesn't have any impairment that is severe enough for determination. Once you get past those two steps, there are essentially two ways to qualify.
The more difficult way to qualify is to demonstrate that you do not have any capacity to perform work that you have performed in the past, and that you do not have the capacity to perform any other work that is available in significant amounts within the national economy. The past-and-existing-work approach often causes claims to be denied because it is not difficult to find some type of job that an impaired individual can do somewhere in the United States. Hearings often turn on the question of whether an obviously impaired person could potentially perform a relatively obscure job (the "dowel inspector" being the one that always comes to my mind when I think about past experiences) even though no such jobs are available in the area where the claimant lives. That such jobs are actually available for severely impaired individuals, and that such individuals have the resources to relocate to take those jobs, is an unrealistic expectation that I hope will some day be corrected.
Often, however, a much easier way to qualify is to identify a disability that is a part of the so-called "listings." The listings are - as the name suggests - a series of lists of conditions which are considered to automatically be disabling. They provide criteria both for adults and for children.
For example, someone who has a herniated disc that results in a compromise of the nerve root of the spinal cord can qualify, if there is sufficient evidence of the effect of such nerve root compression on the neurological system.
The listings are broken down into various systems - musculoskeletal, vision, hearing, etc. If your doctor can document that you have one of the conditions in the listings, then you should automatically qualify for disability benefits.
Even if your condition does not exactly match one of the conditions in the listings, the Social Security Administration will still find you to be disabled if your condition "equals" one of the conditions that is included in the listing. This is where a creative approach to your claim can sometimes pay off. Someone who is experienced Social Security claims may be able to identify some way in which a condition that doesn't meet the listings can still qualify because it has the same effects in terms of the impairment that it creates.
Any time I take on a Social Security case for a resident of Abilene, Texas (where I practice). The first thing I consider is whether the individual meets or "equals" one of the listings. Often, that is the quickest route to a finding of disability.