What If Your Disability Claim Is Denied Due to Substantial Gainful Activity?

It can be a total shock, but Social Security may deny your disability claim before they even look at your medical records. This is called a "technical denial." One of the most common reasons for a technical denial is called Substantial Gainful Activity. This is what you need to know if you find yourself in the frustrating position of having your claim denied for this reason.

A Technical Denial Doesn't Mean That You Aren't Disabled.

A technical denial for benefits actually makes no statement at all about whether or not you're disabled. Your claim never got that far into the process of evaluation. A technical denial means that you aren't eligible for disability benefits because of reasons unrelated to your medical condition. Almost a third of disability claims are given technical denials.

Often, the reason for the technical denial is that people file for disability benefits while they are still struggling to hold onto their jobs, despite their impairments. The income from that work, if it exceeds certain limits, is considered "substantial" and essentially stops any further consideration of eligibility.

From Social Security's point of view, the fact that you get a paycheck that's above a certain limit is enough to make you "not disabled" under the law—no matter what your condition.

Just Because You're Getting Paid Doesn't Mean You Can Do the Work.

A lot of people who are genuinely disabled still try to hold onto their jobs long after they really aren't capable of doing them. A lot of sympathetic employers will try to work with their long-term employees, making accommodations for them that will let them stay employed while they file for disability benefits, thinking that the process will only take 2–3 months. 

In some cases, people with disabilities will continue to struggle to remain employed and work in spite of the fact that they are actually making their own conditions worse.

For example, someone with degenerative arthritis in his back may continue working his construction job, with the full knowledge that every time he lifts something he is causing more damage to his spine. His work may have fallen below normal standards and he could be in danger of being fired, but he's still working at the time he files for disability because he needs the income to survive.

You Can Sometimes Prove That You Aren't Really Earning the Money.

You can sometimes prove that your income shouldn't be the basis of a denial for benefits and get Social Security to take another look at your claim. You can argue that

  • You are only still employed because your employer has been making special accommodations for you, on a short-term basis, while you are trying to get benefits.
  • You are being given regular assistance from other employees to get your work done.
  • You are being held to a lower standard of work than other employees with the same job title.
  • A special relationship exists between you and your employer (often because of a family relationship) that is causing your employer to pay you, even though you aren't really performing the work.
  • Your employer is allowing you accommodations in your schedule or work that he or she wouldn't allow someone without your condition.

If you've been denied for Social Security disability benefits due to your work activity alone, contact a social security attorney to discuss your case. It may be very possible to overcome this obstacle and get your case to move forward to the next stage.

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