Just about everyone knows someone who is receiving disability benefits for a mental or physical impairment that prevents them from working. Many people also claim to know of a neighbor down the street, an ex-coworker, a brother-in-law or a friend-of-a-friend who is getting disability benefits but believe there is nothing wrong with him or her.
Social Security uses many different tests and criteria to determine whether someone is disabled. The rules they use to determine if you’re disabled may be different than the rules they were required to use for your neighbor. When determining if you are disabled, SSA will look at your age, education and work history. There are special rules for those over 50. For example, a 50 year old who has worked in a factory for the past 25 years, and now has bad knees that prevent him from standing would likely be found disabled. A 55 year old who did a lot of heavy lifting at that factory job and can now only lift 20 pounds because of a shoulder injury, but has no problems with his knees would still be found disabled. If you saw either of these individuals mowing their lawn, grocery shopping, or doing any other routine daily activities, you may question why they are collecting disability benefits, however, under Social Security rules, they would “grid out” and be found disabled based on their age and their past work.
“Well, what about my younger neighbor who gets benefits for a bad back and I see him mow the lawn and shovel snow?”
If you are under 50, SSA will look at your case a little differently. Another rule SSA follows is that they will consider a person disabled if they cannot sustain work for 8-hours a day, 5 days a week. So you might see your neighbor outside once a week for an hour mowing the lawn, but you don’t know what happens after he mows the lawn. He might need to lay down for a few hours or a few days afterwards and ice his back. If he needs the rest of the day to recuperate from a one hour task, it is unlikely that he would be able to perform work duties on a regular basis 8-hours a day, 5 days a week.
The most important thing to remember is that Social Security makes decisions based on medical records. You have no way of knowing what is contained in someone’s medical records and how their condition might impact their ability to hold a 40-hour a week job. This is especially true for a physical impairment, or more likely, a mental impairment that you are probably not aware of during your brief encounters with such an individual. Be careful not to judge those about whom you may actually know so little other than what you see.