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How Social Security Views Severe and Nonsevere Impairments

In the five step process that Social Security uses to review disability claims, the second steps requires that a claimant show he or she suffers from a “severe impairment.”

But what exactly constitutes a severe impairment is confusing for many clients.

Social Security defines a severe impairment as an impairment or combination of impairments that significantly limit the individual’s physical or mental abilities and, as a result, interfere with the individual’s ability to perform basic work activities.

The severity of an impairment is judged by the medical evidence submitted to the Social Security Administration.

A common severe impairment is a spine disorder. This can be clearly proven with an x-ray or MRI, and any sort of chronic back pain is obviously going to affect one’s ability to work.

Many claimants will allege high blood pressure or high cholesterol to be severe impairments, but it’s very rare for Social Security to find this.

While testing will usually show that claimants do indeed suffer from these impairments, it’s not very common for either high blood pressure or high cholesterol to actually impact an individual’s ability to work.

Mental health impairments such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder become especially tricky.

Often these impairments do cause claimants great difficulty in their daily lives, but it can be difficult to find healthcare providers who will document these symptoms, and without documentation, Social Security cannot find these impairments to be severe.

Sometimes, even with years of treatment, for whatever reason, Social Security will find that an impairment is nonsevere.

And unfortunately, a finding that a particular impairment is not severe can be the difference between winning and losing a case, so it’s important to have an attorney on your side who can argue these points before the Social Security Administration.

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