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

How Does Social Security Decide If You Are Disabled Or Not?

Social Security uses medical records, work history, medical vocational rules, and a disability guidebook that contains a listing of impairments that affect the various body systems to decide if you are disabled or not.

Once you provide Social Security with your medical sources (names, addresses, treatment, medications and treatment dates) and work history (jobs you have performed in the past fifteen years that you worked at for three months or more, earned the substantial gainful activity amount or SGA, and had time to learn), your disability case is sent to a federally funded state disability agency for a decision. Once in the disability agency, your disability claim is assigned to a disability examiner who will make a decision as to whether or not you are disabled according to Social Security guidelines.

In order for the disability examiner to decide if you are disabled or not, they have to first gather medical records from the sources that you provided with your disability application. If they determine that you do not have enough current medical record information for them to make a medical disability decision, they will schedule you for a consultative examination with a doctor who is paid by Social Security to evaluate the current status of your physical and/or mental impairment.

You may be required to attend more than one consultative examination. This may occur, for example, because you have alleged both mental and physical disabling conditions but you have no current medical treatment (Social Security considers current medical treatment to be any treatment received within the past ninety days), or you have no medical records at all. Social Security rules require a disability examiner to have current medical information in order to make a decision.

While disability examiners like to have at least twelve months of medical history for their disability determination, it is not strictly required. From my experience as a disability examiner, a medical history that contains clear, concise medical treatment notes which address your treatment, prognosis, your response to prescribed treatment and the limitations caused by your condition or conditions usually help you to win your disability case. Conversely, consultative examinations alone rarely lead to an approval for disability benefits.

When the disability examiner has enough medical information to make their determination, they refer to the impairment listings contained in the Social Security disability handbook, “Disability Evaluation Under Social Security". This is done to determine if your disabling condition meets or equals the severity requirement of the body system impairment listing that addresses your specific disabling condition or conditions.

For example, arthritis would be considered in the section of the listing book devoted to musculoskeletal impairments, while congestive heart failure would be considered in the section devoted to cardiovascular impairments.

If your disability condition is so severe that it meets or equals an impairment listing, you may be approved for disability benefits. If your specific limitations do not meet or equal the criteria of an impairment listing, you may still be approved for disability benefits provided that your disabling condition causes your residual functional capacity (what you are able to do in spite of the limitations of your disabling conditions) to be so restrictive as to prevent you from doing any of the jobs you have done in the past fifteen years, or any other kinds of work.

In other words, you may be approved for disability benefits through a sequential evaluation process that considers both medical and vocational factors.

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?
What does a child get if a person is approved for disability?

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