Overview of Disability

Disability Back Pay

Disability Requirements

Disability Applications

Disability Advice Tips

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

SSI Disability Benefits

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

Recent Questions

SSDRC Disability Blog

What makes you disabled for SSD, Social Security Disability Benefits, OR SSI?

Social security disability and SSI cases are decided on the basis of a fundamental decision: can the claimant perform work activity that provides a substantial and gainful income? Working at this level is referred to as SGA, or substantial gainful activity.

For practical purposes, it means working and earning a certain minimum amount each month (the gross earnings amount that is the current SGA limit can be viewed here: How much can you work and earn before becoming ineligible for SSD or SSI?)

In other words, if you retain the ability to work but only at a level that is below the SGA earnings limit that is in effect for a given year, then you may be considered disabled by Social security.

The actual definition of disability states that, to qualify for disability, the following must be true:

1. The person filing for disability must have a medically determinable basis for the impairment that they claim to be disabling. What does SSA mean by "medically determinable"? This simply means that the claimant's diagnosis, and the limitations and restrictions that result from their diagnosed condition, must be documented, i.e. proven by medical evidence. This will typically mean medical records obtained from the various doctors who have treated a claimant (but also including hospitals and specialized clinics).

2. The person applying for disability must have a condition that is severe enough to prevent them from being able to work and earn a substantial and gainful income.

3. This level of severity must persist for at least one full year in order for an individual to be awarded disability benefits.

Whether or not a person can engage in substantial and gainful work activity will determine whether or not they meet the qualifications for disability under either the SSD (social security disability) or SSI (supplemental security income) program.

How is it proven that a case actually meets the definition of disability used by the social security administration? If the medical evidence shows that the claimant's current physical and/or mental abilities are not up to the task of doing any of the jobs that they might have done in the past 15 year period (this is what SSA considers to be the relevant work period), then it is possible that they may be approved for disability.

However, the inability to return to a past job is only part of the equation. Once a return to past work is eliminated as an option, a claimant's file (which includes their medical records, statements from a treating physician--referred to as a residual functional capacity statement or medical source statement--work history reports, and questionaires regarding their activities of daily living) must also demonstrate that the claimant lacks the ability to use their education and job training, given full consideration of their age and functional limitations, to do some type of other work.

The inability to work, of course, at a level that allows the individual to earn a substantial and gainful income, must last for at least one full year. If the individual's state of disability does not last for a full year, the claim will be turned down as durational denial.

What happens if a disability claim is denied on the basis of duration, i.e. that the condition was not disabling for long enough a period of time? The claimant may elect to further pursue the claim by following the appeal process. Filing appeals is always preferable to filing a new claim since the filing of appeals will advance the case further along in the system.

The first appeal, the request for reconsideration, is handled in an identical fashion to the disability application and is simply processed by a different disability examiner. And, not surprisingly, the rate of denial on reconsiderations is very high. In fact, the percentage of denials at the recon level typically exceeds 80 percent.

Getting through the recon level, though, allows a claimant to file the second appeal in the SSD and SSI system. That appeal is known as a request for hearing before an administrative law judge. At a hearing, a claimant will, statistically, stand a much higher chance of being awarded benefits, particularly when the case is A) properly prepared and B) properly presented to the presiding judge.

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

Related pages:

If Am Medically Disabled, Can Social Security Still Turn Me Down for Disability for Some Reason?
How will Social Security find you disabled?
When is a Person Considered Fully Disabled by Social Security?
Being Determined Medically Disabled for Social Security Disability
How Does Social Security Decide If You Are Disabled Or Not?
What makes you disabled for SSD, Social Security Disability Benefits, OR SSI?
How Disabled Must You be to get Social Security Disability Approved?
How Disabled Do You Have To Be To Collect Social Security Disability or SSI?
If I apply for disability and my doctor says I am disabled, is there a waiting period to receive benefits?
If my account goes over $2000 asset limit, will it cause a problem for SSI?

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