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Florida Social Security Disability Hearings in Clearwater and St. Petersburg: What You Must Prove to Win

To win benefits at your St. Petersburg or Clearwater disability hearing, your Florida Social Security lawyer must develop a theory that explains why you are eligible for Social Security disability or SSI benefits.  Every Florida disability case that is presented to an administrative law judge needs a theory.

Depending on the facts of your case, you may be disabled under either or both of these theories.

  • Your impairment is so severe that it meets or equals a Listed impairment.
  • You cannot do your “past relevant work” and you cannot do other work that exists in significant numbers considering your age, education, and experience.

Your Florida disability lawyer will analyze the facts and evidence in your case and determine whether to present one or both of these theories to the administrative law judge at your Social Security disability hearing.

Meeting or equaling a listing impairment

The Listings are Social Security regulations that provide medical standards for a number of physical and mental impairments that if met by a claimant will result in a finding of disability.  The Listings cover musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, endocrine, immune, neurological, and mental disorders, among others.  The Listings are available on the Internet at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook/index.htm.

If you meet the medical standards and findings in a Listing for a particular impairment, you are presumed to be so limited that you cannot perform any substantial work.  Even if you do not meet the standards for any listed impairment, you may still be found disabled if your impairment equals a listed impairment.

Your impairment may equal a Listing if : (1) you do not have one of the required medical findings stated in the Listings for your particular impairment but you have other findings; (2) you have all the findings but not at a severe enough level and you have additional findings; (3) your impairment has no Listing, but it is as severe as a similar impairment that appears in the Listings; or (4) you have two or more impairments, none of which meet the Listings by itself, but when all your impairments are considered together, they are sufficiently severe.

Whether your impairment meets or equals a listing involves a technical analysis of your medical records and test results.  It may involve testimony from a Social Security medical consultant and a report or testimony from your doctor.

If you are still capable of performing “past relevant work,” disability under the Listings is an important theory to be able to argue. Your ability to perform your past work can make you ineligible for disability benefits.  But, if your impairment meets or equals one of the impairments in the Listings, your ability to perform past work is irrelevant.

When your impairment does not meet or equal a listing

To be eligible for disability benefits when your impairment does not meet or equal a Listing, you must show that you cannot do your “past relevant work” and that you cannot do other work that exists  in substantial numbers considering your age, education, and experience. Most Florida Social Security cases involve this theory.

Past relevant work

Past relevant work includes any job that:

  • You performed within the past 15 years.
  • For long enough to learn to do it.
  • That was “substantial gainful activity” (SGA).

That means the job must have involved significant physical or mental activities and you must have earned a minimum monthly amount for doing it.  The amount is determined by the Social Security Administration and it increases each year.

Even a part-time job will be past relevant work, as long as it was a substantial gainful activity.  Thus, you and your disability attorney have to identify your easiest full- or part-time past job and then figure out why you cannot still do it.  As a general rule, you will not be disabled if you had an easy job in the past 15 years that you can still do, unless your impairment meets or equals a Listing.

Other work

The Social Security Administration has developed Medical-Vocation Guidelines that it uses to help it determine what other work you can do considering your maximum physical residual capacity (RFC), age, education, and experience. RFC is the level of work you can still do despite your impairments. For physical impairments, it is expressed in terms of whether you can do medium, light, or sedentary work.

The Medical-Vocational Guidelines consist of three charts, called grids, that determine whether you are disabled for different combinations of RFC age, education and work experience.

The grids are based on the idea of vocational adaptability. The younger and better educated a person is and the more work experience the person has, the more easily he or she can adapt to a new job despite a medical impairment.

In general, here’s what claimants in different age groups need to prove to be disabled under the grids:

  • Claimants under age 50.  If you are in this age group, as a general rule, you have to prove that you cannot do a sedentary job, which requires lifting no more than 10 pounds and sitting most of the day, or a job where you’re allowed to alternate between sitting and standing during the workday.
  • Claimants between age 50 and 54. If you are in this age group, generally you have to prove that you cannot do “light” work, which requires lifting up to 20 pounds and standing or walking most of the day. Even though you might still be able to do a sedentary job, you can still be found disabled.
  • Claimants 55 or older. If you are in this age group, as a general rule, you have to prove that you cannot do “medium” work, which requires frequently lifting 25 pounds, and occasionally lifting up to 50 pounds and standing or walking for most of the day. But you can be capable of doing light work and sedentary work and still be found disabled.

Our Clearwater Florida Social Security lawyers can help

You will not be eligible for Social Security disability benefits in Florida just because employers won’t hire you because of your medical problems. The Social Security Administration looks only at whether you are capable of doing jobs. In fact, it may be necessary to prove that you are unable to do jobs that you would never be hired for.

On the other hand, to receive disability benefits in Florida, you do not have to be unable to do any job. Very few people, including many people who qualify for Social Security disability benefits, are unable to do anything.

If you are not already represented by a Florida Social Security disability lawyer and want our evaluation of your case, give us a brief description of your claim using the form to the right.  Or you may contact us at:

Lillesand & Associates, P.A.
Clearwater, Florida disability attorneys
E-mail us

Clearwater Office
635 Court St, Ste 202
Clearwater, Florida 33756
Phone: (727) 330-7895