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SSDI Step 2: Do You Have a Severe Impairment?
If you are even considering filing for SSD or SSI, you almost certainly think you have a “severe” impairment. You may use different words to describe your condition, but you probably think that it’s pretty bad. Otherwise, why would you be looking to get benefits?
Unfortunately, this is yet another area where you and Social Security might have a bit of a disagreement. By definition, a severe impairment is a physical or mental condition that “significantly limits” your ability to do basic work activities. “Oh no,” you say. “Here we go again with the legal talk.” What does “significantly limits” mean anyway?
Just like many aspects of your case, this one is a judgment call. Who is to say what “significant” means? A “non-severe” impairment to one person can be “severe” to another. A broken finger that does not heal properly might be very severe to someone who uses keyboards all day, even though we don’t tend to think of a broken finger as a “severe impairment.
Since there are no hard-and-fast standards for what is “severe,” the approach that we take in our office is that a severe impairment should be easy to prove if you have at least some medical evidence that it exists. If it is just your own opinion, it could be a tough one to prove. But, if you have medical evidence, you usually get the benefit of the doubt on this one.
One last word on this step. Your “severe impairment” has to last at least 12 months (1 year) for your to qualify. However Social Security also allows you to argue that your impairment is expected to last 12 months, even if it has not already. So, for example, if you had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (a very serious neurological illness that has no cure), you would not have to wait out to work for at least one year before applying. Your doctors can indicate that your condition will certainly last at least one year and the so-called “durational requirement” is met.
Step 2 Bottom Line
A headache that you get once a month and that you cure with Tylenol? Not severe. A cluster headache syndrome that lasts for weeks or severe migraines that you get 10 times a month and that won’t go away with over-the-counter medicine and will make you miss work? Probably severe. Any medical condition that places a significant obstacle in the way or your working can be shown to be severe. You just need medical evidence to back it up.
Keep in mind, though, that even if you show that you have a severe impairment, you still have a long way to go before you are considered disabled. It just gets you past Step 2 and on to Step 3 of the 5-Step Process.
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