man in a tunnelSchizoaffective disorder is just one of many types of mental illness that affect approximately 58 million people each year. Mental illness, also called a mental disorder or psychiatric disorder, is a term that covers more than 200 types of mental health conditions that impact a person’s behavior, thinking, and emotions. When someone is diagnosed with a mental illness, a doctor usually sees a pattern of behavior that causes the patient to be unable to handle day-to-day activities or function in normal life.

People who suffer from schizoaffective disorder usually deal with two types of conditions: psychosis, where there is a break with reality, and mood disorders. And because no one person experiences this condition the same way, schizoaffective disorder is a mental illness less understood than other types of mental disorders.

Proving your eligibility for Social Security (SS) disability benefits if you have a mental illness can be challenging. You need to show that your symptoms have disabled you in a way that makes it impossible for you to function and work any type of job. Because it’s not easy to get compensation for mental illness, especially for schizoaffective disorder, hiring a disability attorney can help give you a better chance of getting your claim approved.

The SSA’s 5-Step Process to Evaluate a Claim

There is a 5-step process used by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to evaluate a SS benefits claim for schizoaffective disorder and other illnesses. For each step, there’s a decision-maker or examiner to help make a determination for that phase of the process. The following assessment is used by the examiner at each step: 

1. Non-medical eligibility requirements. No matter how disabling your schizoaffective disorder symptoms, you can’t work over the substantial, gainful activity (SGA) level as designated by the SSA. This means you are not allowed to earn more than $1,090 gross per month. You must satisfy the SGA rule before your claim will move to Step 2 for evaluation. If you don’t meet this eligibility requirement, your claim will likely be denied, and probably won't succeed on appeal.

2. Determining severity. The next step is for the examiner to determine if your symptoms are severe. To prove they are intense enough to keep you from working, it’s helpful to have a disability attorney assist you in compiling all the necessary medical evidence. You may be asked to fill out questionnaires that allow you to explain how your symptoms impact your ability to function on a daily basis. The examiner may also schedule you for a medical evaluation. Once the examiner reviews all your medical information, he decides if your symptoms are severe. To meet this qualification, your evidence may need to show physical limitations such as your ability to stand, walk, or carry items, as well as other limitations such as how well you can follow simple instructions, concentrate, and speak logically. If your symptoms are found to be severe, your claim moves on to Step 3.

3. Meeting a medical listing. If your schizoaffective disorder meets or equals a medical listing in the SS Blue Book by presenting symptoms specifically for that condition, you'll be found to be disabled at this step and eligible to receive benefits. However, if your symptoms don’t meet a medical listing, your claim moves to Step 4.

4. Working a previous job. In Step 4, the examiner determines if you have the capacity to work at any job you’ve had during the 15 years prior to your schizoaffective disorder. The examiner uses your Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to make this determination—what your body and mind can still manage to accomplish given your medical condition and symptoms. Typically, if there’s a job you can perform, you'll likely be considered for past relevant work.

After the examiner defines a list of past relevant work, he must classify it—both by exertion level and skill level. If the examiner determines you can still function and perform work from a past job, your claim will be denied. If the examiner finds that you can’t perform past work, your claim moves to Step 5.

5: Identifying other work. At this step, the examiner looks to see what type of work you can do, even if you've not performed it in the past. The examiner uses the RFC and also considers your education, age, and work experience. If it’s determined that you can’t perform any other type of work, you’ll likely be evaluated as disabled and approved for benefits.

Get Help With Your Claim

If you suffer from schizoaffective disorder, it’s possible to obtain SS disability benefits. Contact Cuddigan Law at (402) 933-5405 to schedule an evaluation of your eligibility for benefits.


Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska