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Factors the SSA Will Consider in Determining if You Can Perform Your Past Job

Rushing Law Firm, PLLC April 15, 2024

When you're going through the Social Security Administration's (SSA) process to determine your eligibility for benefits, it can feel overwhelming—especially when it comes down to whether or not you can still do the work you used to. The SSA looks closely at various factors, including your health, age, education, and work history, to see if you're able to return to your previous job. Understanding what they look at can help you gain more confidence in your situation, as well as potentially qualify for benefits. 

What the SSA Looks for in Your 'Past Relevant Work' 

The term 'Past Relevant Work' (PRW) holds great weight when applying for SSI. But what exactly constitutes PRW, and how does the SSA dissect this component? Past Relevant Work spans positions held within 15 years prior to the onset of your medical condition, jobs that you performed for a long enough duration to learn the skills, and jobs that are classified as 'substantial gainful activity' (earning over a certain monthly amount). 

For SSA evaluators, determining PRW lies in assessing whether your condition hinders the essential functions of your past roles. The level of exertion, complexity of tasks, and other demands of your roles, relative to your current abilities post-onset, all feature prominently. To illustrate, if your previous job necessitated 'medium' work, but your current physical abilities align more with 'sedentary' tasks, a critical incongruence emerges. 

Detailed Work Histories 

Keeping detailed records is key when proving your case to the SSA. Job descriptions, duration, frequency of tasks, and requirements are all important pieces.  

Communication With Treating Physicians 

Effective communication between you and your healthcare professionals is invaluable. Physicians who understand the importance of documenting your condition's impact on work activities in your medical records can significantly advance your cause. The degree to which your medical evidence substantiates your work limitations can potentially tip the scales in your favor during SSA evaluations. 

The Role of Vocational Analysts and Experts 

In many disability claims, vocational analysts and experts become pivotal resources during the determination process. These professionals interpret the relevance of your work history and medical evidence as it pertains to your current capabilities.  

However, their assessments aren't the final word. It's up to you to double-check their findings and raise any discrepancies. 

Crafting the Vocational Statement 

A potent tool in your arsenal is the vocational statement—a structured narrative that outlines your work history, limitations, and how your condition inhibits the performance of your past job duties. This statement should showcase an unmistakable alignment between your work history and current challenges, clearly articulating the connection for SSA reviewers. 

The Consultative Examination 

In certain instances, consultative medical examinations provided by the SSA emerge as crucial crossroads in your disability narrative. These evaluations, conducted by SSA-approved physicians, serve to confirm the medical issues expressed in your claim. They should be approached with thorough preparation. 

Can You Do Other Work? 

Should the SSA determine that your condition indeed precludes the performance of your PRW, the analysis then shifts to assess your potential for other job roles. The SSA will examine whether alternative types of work exist within your geographical area that you can reasonably perform, given your residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience. 

The Impact of Age on Job Adaptability 

Age serves as a critical variable in the SSA's job adaptability calculus. The agency recognizes that the vocational prospects of younger claimants may be more flexible, and thus, more expansive, in comparison to older individuals. Vocational opportunities that are conventional for a 25-year-old may differ significantly for a 55-year-old, given the latter's reduced window for job retraining and adaptation. 

Personal Testimony and Its Impact 

Your personal testimony, supported by documentation and evidence, offers SSA adjudicators an intimate view of the daily challenges you face. It is the living testament that bridges the conceptual divide between medical data and the lived experience of disability. The account of your struggles can bring about empathy and understanding. This human element resonates with SSA reviewers and administrative law judges, often influencing decisions in a manner favoring the claimant. 


We understand that as a potential disability applicant, you're teeming with questions. Here, we address some of the most pertinent queries regarding the determination of your PRW:

Q: What if my past job is part of a specialized industry that is not widely available in my local labor market? 

A: If your previous employment was in a specialized field not readily transferable to general labor categories in your geographic sector, the SSA acknowledges the inherent limitations this presents. They will expand the scope of their review to encompass the national economy, searching for any job role—within reason—that you could perform. 

Q: I owned my own business as a past job. How does the SSA assess this during my disability claim? 

A: Owning a business can introduce unique complexities to the SSA's assessment. The agency will scrutinize your role within the company, the physical and mental demands of your duties, and whether another individual could feasibly perform your job function under your most recent work's circumstances. 

Q: What happens if the SSA determines I'm capable of performing other work, but I contend that such roles aren't realistically available to me? 

A: If a discrepancy arises between the vocational opportunities the SSA identifies and your perception of job availability, it is crucial to provide detailed, substantiated evidence that reinforces your claim. This could range from job market survey data to anecdotal accounts from employment agencies that confirm the unavailability of suitable positions. 

Understand Your Rights 

It's natural to have lots of questions during this process. Whether you're wondering how the SSA views self-employment or what happens if you disagree with their job availability assessment, getting detailed answers can help. Get in touch with an experienced lawyer to help you go through process and improve your odds of a successful outcome.