Overview of Disability

Disability Back Pay

Disability Requirements

Disability Applications

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How long do cases take?

How to win Disability

SSD Mistakes to avoid

Disability for Mental

What if you get denied?

How to file Appeals

Disability through SSA

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Disability for Children

How do I qualify for it?

Working and Disability

Disability Award Notice

Disability Lawyer Q&A

Disability Conditions List

What is a disability?

Your Medical Evidence

Filing for your Disability

Disability Eligibility

SSD SSI Definitions

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SSDRC Disability Blog

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.

Return to:  Social Security Disability Resource Center, or read answers to Questions

Related pages:

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?

Information on the following topics can be found here: Social Security Disability Questions and in these subsections:

Frequently asked questions about getting Denied for Disability Benefits | FAQ on Disability Claim Representation | Info about Social Security Disability Approvals and Being Approved | FAQ on Social Security Disability SSI decisions | The SSD SSI Decision Process and what gets taken into consideration | Disability hearings before Judges | Medical exams for disability claims | Applying for Disability in various states | Selecting and hiring Disability Lawyers | Applying for Disability in North Carolina | Recent articles and answers to questions about SSD and SSI

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

Filing for disability - How to file for SSD or SSI and the Information that is needed by Social Security
How to Apply for Disability - What medical conditions can you apply and qualify for?
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?
How to Prove you are disabled and qualify to win disability benefits
How do you prove your disability case if you have a mental condition or impairment?
Social Security Disability Back pay and How Long it Takes to Qualify for it and receive it
Social Security Disability SSI - Eligibility Requirements and Qualifications Criteria