How Disabling Does A Condition Have To Be For Social Security Disability, SSDI Benefits?

The Social Security definition of disability explains how disabling a condition has to be to receive Social Security Disability benefits (SSDI) or SSI benefits based on disability.

The definition of disability holds that for a person to be considered disabled, they must have a medically determinable impairment that has prevented them from working and earning a substantial and gainful income for twelve continuous months; or have an impairment that is expected to prevent this for twelve months; or is expected to result in their death.

Any mental or medical condition that meets the definition is considered to be a severe impairment. However, there are many individuals with severe impairments who are working full time jobs in spite of their conditions. Social Security considers not only the severity of an individual's disabling condition but how restrictive their residual functional capacity (what they can still do even with their condition) is when making a disability determination.

Social Security establishes a monthly earnings amount that it considers to equate to substantial gainful work activity every year. If an individual is able to earn over the SGA monthly earnings amount without special work considerations (some employers allow employees to rest more, sit more, take more time off, or even let them earn their pay but produce less work), their disability claim will be denied without a being sent to a disability examiner at disability determination services for a medical determination.

Social Security uses medical records, disability questionnaires (both from the applicant and their third party contact), and any other evidence that might help them determine an individual's residual functional capacity assessment when making a disability determination.

If an individual's condition causes their capacity assessment to be so restrictive that they cannot engage in gainful work activity, they may be eligible for disability benefits.

Social Security should never be confused with partial disability programs, workman's compensation, short-term disability, or a "percentage of loss disability program" such as veteran's disability. Social Security Disability is a total disability program and that means an individual's impairment has to be so disabling that they are not able to work at a former job or at any other type of job that their age, education, and skills might make them eligible for.

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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