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Applying for Social Security Disability With Multiple Medical Conditions

Some disability cases are clear-cut. A diagnosis of a single severe or catastrophic medical condition could be all that you need to successfully apply for disability benefits or SSI benefits. But many people don’t have a medical history that’s simple and easy to classify.

If you have multiple medical conditions, it may be that you will qualify for disability benefits even if no single condition by itself would meet the qualifications.

If this is your situation, qualifying for disability benefits could be more complex than it would be if you were trying to qualify on the basis of one condition. Take a look at some things that you need to know about applying for Social Security Disability and SSI benefits with multiple medical conditions.

Your Conditions May Be Listed in the “Blue Book”

One of the first things that you’ll want to do is check your diagnosis and symptoms against the Listing of Impairments, sometimes known as Social Security’s Blue Book. This is a list of disabling conditions and the criteria that a patient has to meet to qualify for disability benefits for one of those conditions.

The language of the Listings is very technical and precise. You may need help from a Social Security attorney who is familiar with the technical terms used in the Listing of Impairments.

You will want to determine first whether one or more of your conditions is listed as a disabling condition. Then, you will need to see whether you meet the specific criteria to receive benefits for that condition.  

While you should always list all of your conditions regardless of whether they meet the criteria, meeting a listed condition can be the easiest route to an approval, so it’s important to check this out first.

Your Conditions May Also Equal a Listing

If you don’t exactly meet the criteria listed in the Blue Book for any single condition, don’t panic. You can still qualify for benefits by proving that your conditions equal a listing.

Equaling a listing means that you can demonstrate that even if you don’t meet a specific set of criteria, your collection of symptoms may be equal to the criteria in a similar listing. An example is migraine headaches.  There is no specific Listing for this impairment which can be devastating.  However, Section 11.02 of the Listing of Impairments can provide an argument that you equal the Listings. 

Another reason to equal a listing is when you have multiple medical conditions, none of which quite rise to the specific criteria of the Listings, but when taken together, do equal the severity of one or more conditions.

Another example: you have degenerative disk disease of the spine, but you do not have the atrophy required in the Listing.  However, you may also have arthritis in your hands which would severely affect your ability to manipulate objects.  Together, the severity may equal the Listings.  Thus, you could qualify for benefits.

You May Qualify Based on Residual Functional Capacity

What happens if you don’t meet or equal the listing of Impairments? You still may have a chance to qualify for disability benefits. 

The Social Security Administration will still need to evaluate your residual functional capacity, or RFC. Simply put, your RFC is what you can still do, after taking into account all the limitations caused by your physical and mental conditions.

To determine your RFC, the Social Security Administration will consider both physical and mental health limitations, such as how long you can sit, stand, or walk; are you able to understand, remember and carryout simple instructions?

The Social Security Administration will give their opinion (often incorrect) as to whether your physical RFC falls into one of four categories: sedentary, light, medium and heavy. They look to see whether you have the ability to do unskilled or skilled work. The category you are in will be part of the process to determine if you qualify for Social Security disability benefits.  They must then look at the kind of work you have done or are trained to do, your education level, and your age.

It’s important to note that your medical records alone may not give the Social Security Administration enough evidence to determine your RFC accurately. For example, your condition or the treatment for your condition may make it difficult to focus and concentrate for long periods, but this may not be noted by your doctor if it isn’t relevant to the condition for which you are being treated.  For instance, your arthritis doctor probably may not comment on your anxiety or depression.  In turn, your psychiatrist may not comment on your arthritis.  

If your medical records don’t provide enough information, the Social Security Administration may decide not to pay your claim. A Social Security disability attorney can go over your documentation and testimony and help ensure that you’ve included sufficient supporting evidence.

Having an experienced Social Security attorney on your side from the start is the best way to get the benefits you deserve. Contact a Social Security attorney in your area for help with your application, appeal or hearing.