To get Social Security Disability or SSI do you have to have Total Disability?

Yes, to be awarded benefits under Social Security Disability or the SSI program, your condition has to be considered totally disabling by SSA under their particular rules and guidelines.

What is total disability according to the social security administration? Essentially, the definition of disability used by SSA states a person's disabling condition (which may be physical, or mental, or a combination of several conditions that may be physical or mental in nature) must last a certain minimum length of time before that person may be considered disabled.

That minimum is one full year. If the individual who is attempting to qualify for disability benefits does not remain disabled for at least this length of time, they are not considered to be disabled according to the social security administration definition of disability.

Length of time, however, is not the only part of the definition of disability. The other, and equally important part is that the condition must be severe. And not just minimally severe. The severity level must be extensive enough that the individual cannot engage in normal activities and, more specifically, cannot perform the duties of their past jobs.

Even more than this, the condition must be severe enough that the person applying for disability cannot be expected--because of the functional limitations presented by their medical condition or mental condition--to have the ability to use their education and work skills to switch to some type of other work.

This is what social security means by total disability, that a person's condition makes it impossible for them to work and earn a livable income at one of their old jobs, or at a job that their skills and talents might otherwise qualify them for.

Note: to meet the SSA definition of disability, a person's disabling condition or conditions must last for at least one year (while also preventing work activity). However, this does not mean that a person must wait for a full year after developing a condition, or wait one year after stopping work to file for disability.

An individual with a disabling condition can apply at any time for benefits. At the time a decision is made on the claim, if the claimant's condition has not lasted for the one year minimum duration thus far, the disability examiner or the social security judge (if the case is at the hearing level) can review the claimant's medical records to determine if it likely that the functional limitations caused by the claimant's condition will inevitably last for at least one full year.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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