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Disability determination should use multiple sources, study says

When deciding if someone can work despite having severe physical or mental medical impairments, ordinarily the decision-maker should consider multiple sources of information, according to a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Evidence from vocational testing, medical records and other sources may be necessary to adequately assess a person's ability to sustain productive work activity over time.

The Social Security Administration, called the SSA, sponsored the study in the context of the agency's responsibility to assess disability that prevents work for purposes of eligibility for federal disability benefit programs.

Inadequacy of vocational testing alone

An applicant for Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income, known respectively as SSDI and SSI, may be able to perform physical job activities (like standing, lifting or carrying) in a single test, but the results could tell quite a different story if the person were observed over the course of a week trying to perform the actions repeatedly or on a sustained basis.

In addition, other factors that could be present in the workplace or medical symptoms that may come and go that are not assessed in the vocational test setting must be accounted for. These include:

  • Medication side effects like fatigue or nausea
  • Workplace conditions like heat, cold, noise and others
  • Symptoms from mental health problems such as trouble concentrating, racing thoughts or obsessive thinking
  • Pressure to produce or perform quickly
  • Disease progression

The report concludes that multiple assessments over time most accurately assess ability to work despite restrictions from medical impairments and other factors like age, education and vocational skills.

Legal advocacy

In cases where determining whether an SSDI claimant is disabled may be complex, it can be crucial to have an attorney at your side to assist with gathering all types of evidence to present the entire picture to the SSA of the work limitations the applicant faces.

 

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