When does SSA, the Social Security Administration, consider a person disabled?

Someone mentioned to me that they had misunderstood the SSA (social security administration) definition of disability. They assumed that to be considered disabled for Social Security Disability, a person's condition of disability had to be in place for 12 months before they could even apply for disability benefits. This is what I wrote back.

The actual definition of disability used by SSA states that a condition must be of sufficient severity such that it limits an individual's ability to work and earn a monthly earned amount (gross income) equal to SGA, or substantial gainful activity, and that this condition must either A) have already lasted one full year or B) be projected to last at least one full year (according to the medical records).

The SSA (social security administration) definition of disability gets difficult to explain because even disability examiners and other cogs in the system (I used to be one of them) will typically tell claimants that, to be approved for disability, they can't have worked for a year. In actuality, they're just trying to simplify the answer so they don't have to spend 15 minutes explaining how things work.

Just FYI, though most disabled individuals filing for disability will not be working at the time they submit an application, the system actually allows a person to be employed when they A) file a claim and B) even when they're receiving benefits (assuming they get approved, of course).

The caveat is that the same individual cannot be working and earning at least the SGA limit for any given year. This means that a person on disability or applying for disability is limited to earning less than the current SGA amount (to see what that is, go here: SGA, substantial gainful activity).

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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