How to file for disability, Filing for SSI
Disability Requirements, Disability Status
How long is the wait?, Disability Application
The Social Security List of Impairments
Qualifying for Disability, Mental Disability
Disability Lawyer Info, Disability Back Pay

What are the Social Security Disability, SSI Requirements For How Disabled You Have to Be?

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 be 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.

Disability approvals through the list of impairments

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 SSD or SSI.

Medical vocational allowance approvals

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.

Essential Questions

What is the Social Security Disability SSI list of impairments?

Can you work while getting or applying for Disability?

How Often Does Social Security Approve Disability The First Time You Apply?

Tips for getting Social Security Disability or SSI benefits approved

What medical conditions will get you approved for disability?

What kind of Mental Problems Qualify for Disability?

Receiving a Disability Award Letter

Conditions Social Security will recognize as a disability

Previously answered questions regarding SSD and SSI

Applying for disability in your state

Most popular topics on SSDRC.com

Social Security Disability SSI Questions

The listings, list of disabling impairments

Can a mental illness qualify you for disability?

Disability Lawyers prevent unnecessary denials

How much Social Security Disability SSI back pay?

How to apply for disability for a child or children

Filing a Social Security Disability SSI application

Filing for disability - when to file

How to apply for disability - where to apply

Qualifications for disability benefits

How to Prove you are disabled and Win your Disability Benefits

Qualifying for Disability - The Process

How to get disability for depression

Getting disability for fibromyalgia

SSI disability for children with ADHD

What is the Application Process for Social Security Disability and SSI?

Common Mistakes to avoid after being denied for Disability

Social Security Disability SSI Exam tips

More Social Security Disability SSI Questions

Social Security Disability SSI definitions

What makes you eligible for Social Security Disability or SSI?

New and featured pages on SSDRC.com

Who can help me file for disability?

Related pages:

When to Appeal a Disability Denial
How do I stay eligible to keep getting my disability benefits?
Does Social Security send you to a MRI or CT scan?
Who qualifies for disability? - Qualifying is based on evidence of functional limitations
The Social Security Disability Approval Process and the Criteria for Decisions
How does Social Security Disability decide that you cannot work?
How do you Win Benefits under Social Security Disability or SSI?
Medical Disability Requirements for SSD and SSI
The non-medical Disability Requirements for SSD and SSI
How do you find out how your disability claim is going and where it is in the process?

These pages answer some of the most basic questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim.

Can you get temporary Social Security Disability or SSI benefits?

Permanent Social Security Disability

What is the difference between Social Security Disability and SSI?

Who is eligible for SSI disability?

Can I Be Eligible For SSI And Social Security Disability At The Same Time?

What makes a person eligible to receive disability benefits?

Applying for Disability - How long does it take to get Social Security Disability or SSI benefits?

What happens if I file a disability application and it is denied by a disability examiner or Judge?

For the sake of clarity, SSDRC.com is not the Social Security Administration, nor is it associated or affiliated with SSA. This site is a personal, private website that is published, edited, and maintained by former caseworker and former disability claims examiner, Tim Moore, who was interviewed by the New York Times on the topic of Social Security Disability and SSI benefits in an article entitled "The Disability Mess" and also by the Los Angeles Times on the subject of political attempts to weaken the Social Security Disability system.

The goal of the site is to provide information about how Social Security Disability and SSI work, the idea being that qualified information may help claimants pursue their claims and appeals, potentially avoiding time-consuming mistakes. If you find the information on this site helpful and believe it would be helpful to others, feel free to share links to its homepage or other pages on website resource pages, blogs, or social media. Copying of this material, however, is prohibited.

To learn more about the author, please visit the SSDRC.com homepage and view the "about this site" link near the bottom of the page.