What is the Application Process for Social Security Disability and SSI?
How do you Win Benefits under Social Security Disability or SSI?
If I am determined disabled, how far back will Social Security pay benefits?
How do you prove your disability case if you have a mental condition?
What Can I Do to Improve My Chances of Winning Disability Benefits
Common Mistakes after Receiving a Denial of Social Security Disability or SSI Benefits
How to File for Disability - Tips for Filing
If You Get Approved For SSDI Will You Also Get Medicare?
How much does a Social Security disability attorney get paid?
Social Security Disability SSI Criteria and the Evaluation Process
How long does it take to be approved for SSI or Social Security disability?
What do you Need to Prove to Qualify for Disability Benefits?
Social Security Disability SSI and Fibromyalgia
Social Security Disability SSI and Degenerative Disc Disease
Can I Qualify For Disability and Receive Benefits based on Depression?
Answers to questions about SSD and SSI disability
What Disabilities Qualify for SSI and Social Security Disability Benefits?
Social Security Disability Status
Social Security Disability Tips — how a claim gets worked on
Social Security Disability, SSI Disability - Terms, Definitions, Concepts
Are There Social Security Disability, SSI Requirements For How Disabled You Have to Be?
How to prove you are disabled
and win disability benefits
The simple answer to this question is, yes, there are guidelines and requirements that determine how disabled you have to be to receive Social Security or SSI disability benefits.
The Social Security definition of disability defines a disabling condition as any medically determinable mental or physical impairment that has prevented a person from performing substantial gainful activity for twelve continuous months, or is expected to do so for twelve months, or is expected to end in death.
Note: Substantial gainful activity, or SGA, is a monthly earnings amount that Social Security considers to be self-supporting. In other words, it is effectively an earned income limit and to be considered disabled and eligible to receive benefits an individual cannot work and earn more than the limit in effect for a given year (to see the current SGA earnings limit).
Determining if an individual is disabled
There are two main factors Social Security uses to determine how disabled you are and whether or not you qualify for disability. The first is if you have a medically determinable impairment (meaning that your condition is diagnosed and supported by objective medical evidence). The second is if your disabling condition prevents you from performing work activity at a level that is considered substantial gainful activity, or SGA.
The first step in the disability evaluation process is determining the severity of a person’s disabling condition. Social Security disability examiners do this by requesting medical records or evidence from the treating medical sources that a person provides during their disability interview. If they do not have medical records, or they have no current medical records (medical records have to no more than ninety days old to be considered current), Social Security will schedule a consultative examination to determine a current status of their condition and the limitations caused by their condition.
At this point, Social Security uses a disability handbook, “Disability Evaluation Under Social Security” to evaluate the severity of a physical and/or mental condition or conditions. This disability handbook--also known as the social security list of impairments, or simply the listing--contains impairment listings that address all body systems as well as the criteria needed to meet or equal the severity requirements for Social Security disability and SSI disability.
If a person’s disabling condition meets or equals the disability guidelines contained in an impairment listing they will be considered medically disabled enough and will receive monthly disability benefits provided they meet the non-medical requirements of the disability program or programs they applied for.
Unfortunately, most people who file for Social Security disability do not meet or equal the criteria requirements of an impairment listing. However, they still have a chance of being approved for disability if the disability examiner determines that they are unable to perform any of their past work (jobs that were performed in the past fifteen years in which they earned SGA for three months or more) and that they are also not able to perform any other type of work activity that their skills, education, and training might qualify them for because of their condition.
In order for a disability examiner to determine whether or not a disability applicant can perform any of their past work, they must determine their residual functional capacity (what they are able to do in spite of the limitations of their disabling condition or conditions). Once they determine an disability applicant’s residual functional capacity, they use vocational guidelines to evaluate the individual's ability to perform any of their past work or any other type of work.
Social Security disability examiners consider age, past work, the transferability of work skills, residual functional capacity, and education to determine if a person can be approved through a medical vocational disability allowance.
Simply stated, Social Security uses both medical and vocational guidelines to determine the severity of medical impairments, and vocational guidelines to determine if an individual is disabled for Social Security or SSI disability benefits.
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SSD and SSI are Federal Programs
The title II Social Security Disability and title 16 SSI Disability programs operate under federal guidelines and, therefore, the program requirements--medical and non-medical--apply to all states:
Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming
Recent approval and denial statistics for various states can be viewed here:
Social Security Disability, SSI Approval and Denial Statistics by state
Special Section: Disability Lawyers and unnecessary claim denials