How to file for disability, Filing for SSI
Disability Requirements, Disability Status
How long is the wait?, Disability Application
The Social Security List of Impairments
Qualifying for Disability, Mental Disability
Disability Lawyer Info, Disability Back Pay

To get approved for disability, you must prove that you cannot work

On this site, we speak many times about the various aspects of the disability process, including both medical and vocational factors such as past work, medical records, the medical vocational allowance, and the social security definition of disability.

Another factor of the Social Security Disability and SSI disability process, however, is a concept known as other work. What is "other work" and how does it play into the disability process? Basically, this way---when you apply for disability (either SSD or SSI), your case has to pass several tests.

Severe vs non-severe impairments

The first is that you must have a severe impairment. What is a severe impairment in the eyes of the social security administration? The actual concept of a "severe impairment" is somewhat subjective; however, most individuals who process disability claims would agree that a sprained wrist or sprained ankle would not qualify as a severe impairment, whereas a ruptured disc or a broken limb would.

Can you be denied for disability if your condition is judged to be non-severe? Yes, however, denials issued for an NSI (non-severe impairment) are infrequent, simply because most individuals do not file for disability on the basis of minor medical issues.

Having a severe impairment is the first test to pass. If a claimant's condition is judged to be severe, then the next test involves "duration". For the social security administration, this means that a severe impairment must last for at least 12 months. Does this mean that you must be disabled for 12 months before you can apply? No, social security can evaluate your medical records and make a determination as to whether or not your condition will be expected to last 12 months or longer.

A claimant must have a severe impairment and this impairment must last, or be expected to last for, 12 months or longer. But what makes it disabling? In other words, what makes a person qualify for disability. Answer:the inability to perform work.

Understanding the definition of disability

A person who qualifies for disability will have a severe impairment, lasting not less than a year that A) prevents from working at one of their former jobs and B) prevents them from working at some type of other work.

Many people who explain the disability process tend to stop at this point, because it can get a little confusing. Here's why---the social security definition of disability does not imply that a claimant cannot work. It actually means that, to be considered disabled, a claimant cannot have the ability to work and earn more than a certain threshold of income. That threshold is known as SGA, or substantial gainful activity.

So, let's recap. Qualifying for disability means that your impairment must be severe, must last a year or longer, and must prevent you from being able to engage in your past work or some form of other work activity while earning more than a certain minimum monthly amount (sga, mentioned in the prior paragraph).

Now, what is "other work"? Well, first let's define past work. Past work may potentially include any job that you did in the last 15 years (known as "the relevant period"). Other work is potentially any kind of work that you might possibly be able to do anywhere in the national economy, i.e. anywhere in the country.

"Other work" is the step in the process by which many applicants for disability get denied. Why? Because it is often fairly easy to conclude that a claimant is incapable, based on their functional limitations, to go back to their past work. However, it is sometimes even easier to assert that while a claimant cannot do their past work, they can neverthless perform some type of other work (even if those jobs don't exist in your immediate area).

Fortunately, there is a mechanism in the disability process that adds some fairness into the equation. And that mechanism is the grid, a system of vocational rules that affect what types of other work a claimant can be considered capable of doing. These vocational rules take into account a person's age, the types of job skills they have developed over the course of their work history, the specific physical or mental limitations that they possess as a result of their condition, and even (to a small degree) their education level.

Getting a claimant approved on the basis of these rules means getting them a medical vocational allowance. And this means more than simply referring to a claimant's medical evidence. It means having familiarity with the vocational grid rules used by SSA, it means having a knowledge of basic limitiations (for example, the inability to crouch, stoop, maintain balance, concentrate, remember, etc, etc) and how those limitations affect one's work ability, and it also means knowing how point out to an administrative law judge (at a disability hearing) how a claimant's vocational profile and functional limitations make it impossible to engage in past work or other work.

Obviously, "other work" is a step in the disability process where many individuals get denied. However, with proper preparation before a hearing (typically, this means having a competent attorney who specializes in Social Security Disability and SSI cases), a successful argument can be made that a claimant is incapable of performing other work, resulting in an approval of disability benefits.

Essential Questions

What is the Social Security Disability SSI list of impairments?

Can you work while getting or applying for Disability?

How Often Does Social Security Approve Disability The First Time You Apply?

Tips for getting Social Security Disability or SSI benefits approved

What medical conditions will get you approved for disability?

What kind of Mental Problems Qualify for Disability?

Receiving a Disability Award Letter

Conditions Social Security will recognize as a disability

Previously answered questions regarding SSD and SSI

Applying for disability in your state

Most popular topics on SSDRC.com

Social Security Disability SSI Questions

The listings, list of disabling impairments

Can a mental illness qualify you for disability?

Disability Lawyers prevent unnecessary denials

How much Social Security Disability SSI back pay?

How to apply for disability for a child or children

Filing a Social Security Disability SSI application

Filing for disability - when to file

How to apply for disability - where to apply

Qualifications for disability benefits

How to Prove you are disabled and Win your Disability Benefits

Qualifying for Disability - The Process

How to get disability for depression

Getting disability for fibromyalgia

SSI disability for children with ADHD

What is the Application Process for Social Security Disability and SSI?

Common Mistakes to avoid after being denied for Disability

Social Security Disability SSI Exam tips

More Social Security Disability SSI Questions

Social Security Disability SSI definitions

What makes you eligible for Social Security Disability or SSI?

New and featured pages on SSDRC.com

Who can help me file for disability?

Related pages:

How Often Does Social Security Approve Disability The First Time You Apply?
What are the Chances of Being Approved for a Child who is Filing for Disability?
The Social Security Disability Approval
Social Security Disability SSI approvals rate
How does SSA determine if a claim will be a denial or an approval?
Do you have to quit your job before filing for disability?
Can you qualify for Social Security Disability on the basis of fibromyalgia?
What are the requirements and criteria for Social Security Disability?
Can you get disability if you are younger age?
Disability at age 50 or older
Social Security Disability SSI and proving you can't work
How Residual Functional Capacity affects Social Security Disability and SSI claims
If I am waiting for a Disability Hearing, how often should I see my doctor?
Calling Social Security about a Disability Exam that was scheduled
How does social security decide your disability claim?

These pages provide answers to basic questions about pursuing disability benefits

How to file for disability, filing tips
What to Prove to Qualify for Disability Benefits
Applying for disability benefits, SSI and SSDI
What Disabilities Qualify for SSI and Social Security Disability?
Will you get disability back pay?
Social Security Disability And SSI Qualifications
Permanent Disability Qualifications for SSD and SSI
Social Security Disability SSI status
Disability lawyer representation, finding lawyers
Who will qualify for disability and what qualifying is based on
Qualifications for Disability Benefits
Important points about filing for disability
How long does it take to get disability after applying?
Am I Eligible For Social Security Disability?
Who is eligible for SSI disability?
How to get disability in Florida

For the sake of clarity, SSDRC.com is not the Social Security Administration, nor is it associated or affiliated with SSA. This site is a personal, private website that is published, edited, and maintained by former caseworker and former disability claims examiner, Tim Moore, who was interviewed by the New York Times on the topic of Social Security Disability and SSI benefits in an article entitled "The Disability Mess" and also by the Los Angeles Times on the subject of political attempts to weaken the Social Security Disability system.

The goal of the site is to provide information about how Social Security Disability and SSI work, the idea being that qualified information may help claimants pursue their claims and appeals, potentially avoiding time-consuming mistakes. If you find the information on this site helpful and believe it would be helpful to others, feel free to share links to its homepage or other pages on website resource pages, blogs, or social media. Copying of this material, however, is prohibited.

To learn more about the author, please visit the SSDRC.com homepage and view the "about this site" link near the bottom of the page.