Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Acquiring Work Skills

To be eligible for disability benefits, a person must be unable to engage in substantial gainful activity (“SGA”). The monthly SGA amount for 2011 is $1000. Understanding SGA can help expedite an award of disability benefits.

I represent a 50 year old claimant who worked as a girl scout leader on a very limited basis, roughly 3 hours a day, 3 days a week, earning about $200 a month. Her claim for Supplemental Security Income benefits was denied on the grounds that she could perform that past work.

The Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”) classifies skills that can be acquired for each occupation. The closest analog in the DOT to a girl scout leader is Child Monitor 301.677-010, which only has a Specific Vocational Preparation of 3, which means it can take up to three months to acquire that occupation’s skills. There was no evidence that the claimant worked as a girl scout leader long enough to acquire any skills. Moreover, since the claimant failed to work at SGA levels, it also supported the argument that the claimant had no relevant past work.

Since the claimant was over 50 without any past relevant work, the Medical-Vocational Rules required that she be found disabled even if she had the ability to perform sedentary work. The hearing office approved the claimant’s application on-the-record based on that argument. In the absence of the vocational arguments involving the DOT and SGA the claimant probably would have needed to wait for a hearing to be approved.

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