Should I File Separate Applications if I Have Multiple Disabilities?

If you have one medical condition, you need only file one disability claim with the Social Security Administration: simple enough. But what if you have multiple disability conditions, which may or may not be related?  Should you file individual claims for each condition?  Or can you consolidate your disabilities into a single SSI or SSDI application to keep the process simple?  Our social security attorneys explain how to handle claiming benefits for more than one health problem.

The SSA Must Evaluate the Combined Effects of Multiple Disabilities

It’s not uncommon for disability claimants to suffer from multiple or comorbid conditions.  These conditions may be related, such as joint dysfunction and arthritis, or they may have nothing to do with each other at all.

In either case, the question for the claimant is the same: “How should I approach the SSI or SSDI application process? Can I seek disability for multiple conditions?”

The key is to remember that the SSA’s main concern is with impaired functionality, and not the actual conditions themselves (which is why people whose conditions don’t appear in the Listing of Impairments can still qualify for disability benefits).

Thus, there are two problems with filing multiple claims:

  • Submitting multiple applications in the name of the same claimant is likely to lead to confusion and delayed processing on the SSA’s end.  The SSA is already inundated with claims, so the less paperwork you have to use, the better.
  • If you separate and compartmentalize your impairments, the SSA won’t get to see the full picture of how your overall work capacity is affected by the interplay between your conditions.

This second point is especially important.  Under federal law, the SSA must consider the “combined effect” of multiple impairments on a claimant.  Section G of Social Security Act § 1614 provides the following:

“In determining whether an individual’s physical or mental impairment[s]… are of a sufficient medical severity that such impairment or impairments could be the basis of eligibility… the Commissioner of Social Security shall consider the combined effect of all of the individual’s impairments without regard to whether any such impairment, if considered separately, would be of such severity.

The next portion is equally critical:

“If the Commissioner of Social Security does find a medically severe combination of impairments, the combined impact of the impairments shall be considered throughout the disability determination process.”

In other words, SSA examiners are legally required to evaluate the full medical picture – not just individual components thereof.  As the saying goes, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

How Separate Disabilities Can Help You Qualify for SSI or SSDI

To use our hypothetical example from earlier, imagine that a claimant suffers from both arthritis and joint dysfunction, both of which are noted multiple times in the Listing of Impairments.  Joint dysfunction is listed under Section 1.00 (Musculoskeletal System Disorders), while inflammatory arthritis is listed under Section 14.00 (Immune System Disorders).

In order to meet the listing for major joint dysfunction under Section 1.02, the claimant should exhibit “anatomical deformity,” “chronic joint pain and stiffness,” and “limitation of motion or other abnormal motion of the affected joint(s),” in addition to either:

(1) “inability to ambulate [walk] effectively” or …

(2) “inability to perform fine and gross [hand] movements effectively.”  The listing for arthritis under Section 14.09 is even more demanding, with some criteria even specifying angles and degrees of motion.

However, if the claimant met some of the joint dysfunction criteria, and some of the arthritis criteria – many of which overlap – then together, the “combined effect” could result in severely impaired function, even if each separate condition doesn’t individually stand up to the listing’s criteria.

While matching the Listing can improve your chance of success, an exact match is not necessary for a claimant to get approved.  As we mentioned earlier, the most important part of getting approved is showing that your impairment prevents you from working.

Many claimants who do not match the Listing are able to get approved for SSI or SSDI through a medical-vocational allowance.

On a final note, it’s worth pointing out that closely-related conditions aren’t always featured in the same part of the Listing (as our earlier example goes to show).  Diabetes and peripheral neuropathy, another common combination, are also grouped separately.  Diabetes is listed primarily under Section 9.00 (Endocrine Disorders), while peripheral neuropathy is found under Section 11.00 (Neurological Disorders).

Don’t get discouraged if you can’t find all of your conditions in the same part of the Listing – that doesn’t have any bearing on your claim.

If you’re thinking about filing for disability in New Jersey or Pennsylvania, or if your claim was denied and want to appeal, the Pennsylvania disability lawyers of Young, Marr, Mallis & Associates may be able to help.  Call our law offices at (609) 755-3115 in New Jersey or (215) 701-6519 in Pennsylvania.

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