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

A Social Security Disability determination is based on What You can still do

A recent discussion in a forum concerned how Social Security Disability benefits are awarded. One participant wrote that eligibility is based on what you paid into the system. Another wrote that eligibility for SSD was based on the type of work that you did in the past. A third person wrote that it depended on what you made and what came out of your paycheck for fica. And a fourth stated that it depended on what your doctor had to say about about your condition. Ok, let's deal with all of these suppositions.

1) Is eligibility for Social Security Disability based on what you paid into the system? It depends on what you mean by "eligibility". If you mean the ability to collect disability disability benefits assuming you have been found to be disabled, then the answer is yes. SSD benefits are accounted for under title II of the social security act and that means to collect such benefits you have to have what is known as insured status. Insured status comes as a result of fica taxes that are taken out of your paycheck or paid directly by you if you are self-employed. So, to even receive SSD benefits, you have to have worked enough quarters and paid enough into the system as a result of your work activity.

2) Is eligibility for SSD based on the type of work that you did in the past? The best way to answer this is to state that some decisions for SSD (and SSI disability as well) are based on a claimant's medical condition (physical or mental) meeting or equaling the requirements of a listing in the blue book, or the Social Security Disability list of impairments. However, while some cases are approved in this fashion, most claimants are awarded benefits on the basis of a medical vocational allowance, a decision that utilizes the social security administration's sequential evaluation process.

This process means that, at the level of a disability application or a request for reconsideration (and, actually, at all levels), a claimant's work history will be considered. In what way? The decision maker for the claim (either a disability examiner or an administrative law judge if the case is at the hearing level) will review the claimant's medical record documentation and then determine what the claimant is still capable of doing.

This is known as residual functional capacity. After determining what the claimant is still capable of doing physically or mentally, or both, the claimant's functional capacity will be compared to the demands of the jobs they've done in the past (the relevant period is the past 15 years). If it is decided that they cannot return to their past work, their functional capacity will be compared to other jobs that they have not actually done, but which they might be considered capable of switching to. Not surprisingly, it is the "other work" step that causes many disability claims to be denied. However, if it is decided that a claimant can neither return to their past work nor perform other work, they will be medically approved on the basis of a medical vocational allowance.

3) To be eligible for SSD, does it depend on what you made and what came out of your paycheck for Fica taxes? We already dealt with this in item number one. The answer, again, is that you have to have insured status for SSD and that comes as a result of your work activity and the taxes you paid into the system which earned you the required quarters of coverage. Assuming you are "insured" for SSD, whether or not you actually get disability benefits will depend on what your medical records have to say about your limitations. What you paid into the system, though, will determine the size of your monthly SSD benefit check.

Note: SSI disability does not work like this. SSI is for disabled children, adults who never worked, adults who were once covered by SSD but due to a long period of not working have lost their SSD coverage, and individuals who are covered by SSD but whose monthly disability check would be very low (lower than what a full SSI monthly benefit would be. The size of an SSI disability benefit check has no relation to whatever a claimant may have previously paid into the system.

4) To be eligible for SSD, does it depend on what your doctor has to say about your condition? Yes. Decisions are based on medical records and medical records are created as a result of your interactions with your treating physicians, i.e. your doctors. Typically, medical records have little to say about your actual limitations, but, nevertheless, even if your records are bare-bones, if they are signed off by a qualified medical professional, they hold the weight of a treating physician's opinion.

Of course, since most doctors only record the information in their notes that they, themselves find useful, it is typically a great idea to obtain a medical source statement on something similar to a residual functional capacity, or RFC, form at some point. RFC forms sometimes often do little to help a claim at the lower levels, but they can absolutely win a case at the hearing level. And in the vast majority of cases, a competent disability lawyer or non-attorney claimant's representative will try to obtain one or more of these to present to a disability judge.

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?

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Will taking medicine affect your disability case?
What do you get when you pay for a disability attorney?
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How to file for disability in Arizona
Kidney Disease and Filing for Disability
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These pages provide answers to basic questions about pursuing disability benefits

How to claim disability
Disability claim appeal status
How to get you Social Security Disability status
How does a person qualify for disability benefits?
How do you Apply for SSI?
How Much Income Can you Earn If you draw Social Security Disability?
Can you work if you get SSI?
How long will you get disability after an award notice?
If You Get Social Security Disability or SSI, Will Your Dependents Get A Check?
Social Security Disability denied
Time on a Social Security Disability Decision
How to apply for disability for a child or children
Denied Twice For SSD or SSI Disability, What Do I Do?
f I get disability will my children receive benefits?
Social Security Disability SSI - Retroactive Benefits Vs Back Pay Benefits
How long do you have To Be Out Of Work Before You Get Social Security Disability (SSD)?
How to file for disability and medical conditions
What Does Social Security Consider To Be a Disability?
When does social security consider you eligible for disability benefits?
Qualifying for disability benefits with the social security administration
How to get disability
Will I be approved for disability on my appeal?
How to appeal a disability denial

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.