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
How severe must your condition be to be awarded Social Security Disability or SSI?
To be awarded Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability, you must have a condition, or combination of conditions, that have prevented you from working for twelve continous months, or that you expect to prevent you from performing any kind of substantial and gainful work activity for twelve continuous months.
Why twelve months?
Duration is an integral aspect of the Social Security Administration's definition of disability. Conditions that are otherwise disabling but which fail to meet this minimum length requirement will be denied on the basis of duration by a disability examiner if the claim is being decided at the disability application level (initial claim), or during the reconsideration appeal phase.
Note: The request for reconsideration is the first appeal in the SSA disability system.
At the second appeal level, the disability hearing level, an Administrative Law Judge, or ALJ, may be able to award what is known as a closed period. This is a lump sum benefit payout for a defined period less than one year's length, during which a claimant otherwise met the qualifications for disability under Social Security guidelines.
However, this is the only level of the system at which this type of award occurs and, typically, the opportunity for receiving a closed period award is heightened when a claimant is able to provide additional medical record documentation that was not present during the application and reconsideration phases, or when the claimant's disability attorney is able to satisfactorily demonstrate that the disability examiner erred in one of the prior determinations.
Social Security does not award partial or temporary disability benefits
Social Security Disability is a total disability program, as is SSI. Neither program will award temporary disability benefits, meaning benefits that are paid out monthly for a temporary and defined time period. When a person is awarded disability benefits, the award is made under the assumption that the claimant will receive the benefits indefinitely, until such time as a future review (known as a CDR, or continuing disability review) determines that the individual has achieved medical improvement of their condition.
Nor will either program award benefits for "partial disability", meaning the partial loss of use of an sensory ability (vision, hearing, for example), or the partial loss of an extremity.
For a condition to be considered disabling for an adult, it must result in the loss of the ability to engage in work activity while earning a substantial and gainful income. For a condition to be considered disabling for a child, it must result in the loss of the ability to engage in what SSA refers to as "age-appropriate activities". For school-age children, this will ordinarily translate into an impairment of the ability to keep up with their peers in a school setting, which is why children filing for disability will have not only their medical records reviewed, but will often have their school records reviewed as well.
Measuring the severity of your condition
To be approved for SSD or SSI benefits, you must have a severe impairment that causes significant functional limitations. If your medical and/or mental conditions have been so severe as to prevent activities of daily living including work activity (substitute age-appropriate activities for a child), then you need to contact Social Security and file a disability claim.
How does the Social Security Administration measure how severe your condition is? As stated, severity begins with duration. However, assuming a disabling condition exists for the minimum one-year time period (note: you do not have to wait until you have had your condition for one full year: disability examiners and administrative law judges can review the evidence and make a determination as to whether or not your condition will eventually last one full year), SSA will look for evidence of severity by obtaining your medical records and your work history (school records for a child), along with daily activity questionnaires completed by you and a person who knows you--this individual is referred to as a "third-party contact person".
Activities of daily living
What are ADLs, or activities of daily living? Daily activities can include household cleaning, personal hygiene, hobbies, driving, getting groceries, counting change, managing money, etc. For physical impairment cases, this is measured in terms of your ability to stand, sit, walk, stoop, crouch, reach, and carry certain weights (just to name a few). For mental impairment cases, this may be measured in terms of the ability to remember and retain knowledge, comprehend instructions, interact with family, friends or strangers, complete tasks, or the ability to maintain attention and concentration (again, just to name a few).
ADL information is typically gathered by a disability examiner in one of two ways. The examiner will either send you a questionaire to complete and return, or the examiner will call you and interview you on the phone, completing the questionaire form as the interview proceeds. As mentioned before, sometimes the examiner will also contact your third-party contact person (usually a friend, relative, or neighbor) to gather ADL information.
SSA takes the position that by learning more about your daily activities, a clearer picture may emerge regarding your functional capabilities and limitations. In actuality, though, ADL information does not play a significant role in determining whether or not a person qualifies for disability. This is because ADL information is entirely subjective and does not contain "objective data", such as what can be obtained from medical evidence (lab reports, imaging studies, and assessments made by a physician or psychologist).
Why, then, does SSA gather ADL information? Because, in some cases, more information about a person's activities can shed light on how a condition affects them. In the majority of cases, though, disability examiners give scant consideration to the ADL information that they gather. Judges at hearings, however, are often known to give greater attention to them, just as judges routinely give greater attention to the opinion of a claimant's treating physician than a disability examiner will.
Qualifying for disability
Qualifying for disability occurs in one of two ways. The first is by meeting or equaling the requirements of a condition, mental or physical, that is included in the Social Security Disability List of Impairments, or simply the listings.
What do we mean by "the listings?" Social Security uses a guidebook that contains impairment listings to address most medical and mental conditions. If your condition is so severe that your symptoms satisfy the criteria of a Social Security impairment listing, you are awarded disability benefits. However, most disability applicants have significant impairments that may not satisfy the severity requirements of an impairment listing. Or they may have a condition that is not even listed in the manual (for example, carpal tunnel syndrome and fibromyalgia are not listed).
If your condition does not fulfill the criteria of an impairment listing, but you still have a condition that causes limitations significant enough to prevent you from engaging in work activity (or age-appropriate activities for a child), you may be awarded disability benefits through a medical vocational allowance.
What is a medical vocational allowance? Simply this: If you do not meet an impairment listing, the disability examiner will continue the evaluation process. Meaning that after your medical records have been evaluated, the disability examiner will determine your functional limitations (for example, inability to sit or stand or walk more than a certain length of time, or inability to retain newly learned information).
These limitations will be noted in an RFC, or residual functional capacity, assessment that may be physical or mental. The RFC rating, or assessment, will be compared to your past work to see if you can return to any of the jobs you have performed in the last fifteen years.
If you cannot do any of these former jobs, the examiner will look to your education and work skills, giving consideration to your age and functional limitations, to see if it is possible for you to switch to a new type of work, or other work. If it is decided that you cannot be expected, based on the severity of your condition, to be able to do some type of other work, you are likely to be awarded disability benefits.
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?
Total Disability - Will social security try to determine if a person is totally disabled?
Will You Possibly Get Less Than Total Disability From Social Security?
To get Social Security Disability or SSI do you have to have Total Disability?
Does Social Security offer Partial Disability Benefits?
How severe must your condition be to be awarded Social Security Disability or SSI?
Social Security Disability - Permanent Disability
When does Social Security pay the first disability benefit check?
To get a Social Security Disability or SSI Award do you have to have a Permanent Disability?
How many SSD or SSI denials will you get before being approved?
If you apply for disability in Ohio
Will I qualify for disability Benefits in Ohio?
Getting a Disability Lawyer in Ohio
How do you appeal your disability denial in Ohio?
These pages provide answers to basic questions about pursuing disability benefits
Can you get temporary Social Security Disability or SSI benefits?
Permanent Social Security Disability
What is the difference between Social Security Disability and SSI?
Who is eligible for SSI disability?
Can I Be Eligible For SSI And Social Security Disability At The Same Time?
What makes a person eligible to receive disability benefits?
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?
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.