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

When should you File for Disability benefits with the Social Security Administration?

Should you file for disability? When should you do it? These are two very important questions for individuals who have significant and limiting impairments (mental or physical).

Answer: You should consider filing for disability if your medical condition interferes with your ability to perform work activity. This includes the jobs you have done in the past and, potentially, other forms of work for which your job skills, training, and education may suit you.

How Social Security decides claims

Social Security will base its decision to award medical disability benefits on an individual’s ability to engage in past work or "other" work activity. This decision is made by reviewing both a claimant's work history and a claimant's medical history--which is done by gathering a claimant's medical records.

Note: Past work may potentially include any job done by the claimant in the fifteen year period prior to becoming disabled, as long as the job was performed long enough for the person to actually learn the duties of the job. "Other work" is potentially any type of job that a claimant may be thought capable of doing based on their education and job skills, and mediated by their current limitations.

As an example, an individual with a work history as a machinist who is unable to go back to their old job due to their functional limitations...may be considered capable by the social security administration of doing a similar job (in the same industry or a related industry) if:

A) That job makes use of the individual's education and training and

B) The job does not require, mentally or physically, more than the individual is capable of doing (because, obviously, you cannot be expected to switch to some new type of employment that your training qualifies you for if your physical or mental limitations would stand in the way of you actually doing the job).

When does Social Security consider a condition disabling?

Basically, a person should file for Social Security Disability or SSI if their physical or mental conditions have prevented them from working and earning a substantial and gainful income (this is known as SGA) for twelve months, or if they expect to be out of work for twelve months due to the severity of their impairments.

As the Social Security Administration views things, the standard for being considered disabled is that the condition must last (or be projected to eventually last) for one full year, minimum. Conditions that are severe enough to prevent work activity but which do not last a year or longer will not be considered as a disability. Also, conditions that are severe, last a full year, but are not yet severe enough to prevent a person from working up to the level of being able to earn a substantial and gainful income will, likewise, not be considered to be disabling.

To put it another way and to reiterate: to be considered disabled by the social security administration, a person's condition must be severe enough that it lasts for at least 12 months and prevents the performance of work activity that earns at least a substantial and gainful income, a.k.a. SGA.

How does Social Security measure "severity", i.e. how severe a condition is? By evaluating a person's medical records and then determining what types of physical or mental limitations they have as a result. This is known as a residual functional capacity rating (RFC) and it is compared to the jobs that a person has held to see if they can return to any of those jobs, or do some type of work that their skills will transfer to.

That said, even if a person is found to have limitations that are so severe that Social Security considers them unable to work, but that same person is found to be working and earning what is considered to be a substantial and gainful income, then they will be denied benefits, if they are in the process of filing, or be taken off benefits if they are currently receiving benefits.

More on what happens if you are working when you put in your disability claim

There are individuals who file for disability when they are working, and, likewise, there are individuals who become approved for disability benefits and then later become involved in work activity. Working is not a bar to receiving disability benefits. However, the amount a person earns can rule out receiving benefits, and that amount, as we've already mentioned several times, is the SGA income limit.

If you are working and earning under the SGA limit when you file, your claim will be processed with no interruption. If you are earning more than the SGA limit, however, you will receive what is known as a technical denial. This type of denial occurs almost immediately, meaning that the claimant's case is not actually given a medical evaluation (i.e. the case is not assigned to a disability examiner, and, thus, the claimant's medical records are not gathered).

If a person begins working at the SGA-earnings level when they are already receiving disability benefits, their case will undergo what is known as a work CDR (continuing disability review) to determine if they still meet the requirements of the Social Security Disability or SSI disability program.

Social Security Disability and SSI are not temporary or partial disability programs

Keep in mind that Social Security Disability and SSI disability benefits are total disability programs and neither is a partial or short-term disability program. In other words, the system does not operate on the basis of being 20 percent disabled or 50 percent disabled. To receive disability benefits from social security, a person must be considered completely disabled and unable to work ("unable to work", of course, means being unable to work and earn more than the SGA limit referenced above).

However, it should be said that strong consideration is given based on a person's age, education, and the types of jobs they have performed in the past. In other words, information about a person's job history and work skills, and certainly their age, can help influence a decision on a claim. Built into the system is the concept that people may often have difficulty switching to new forms of employment, as well as the fact that job skills learned many years in the past may not necessarily transfer to other jobs.

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:

Does social security contact your former work employers when you file for disability?
Can You File For Disability While Receiving Unemployment?
When should you File for Disability benefits with the social security administration?
Do You Have To Be Out Of Work For A Long Time Before You Can File For Disability?
Filing for Disability Online or over the phone
Who Do I Contact To File For Disability Benefits from the Social Security Administration?
How long does it take to hear an answer after filing for disability?
You can file for disability for a mental disorder or problem if it interferes with SGA
If You File For Social Security Disability How Far Back Will They Look At Your Medical Records?
What if you Move out of State after you apply for Social Security Disability or SSI?
When should you apply for Social Security Disability?
What Happens When You File an SSI or Social Security Disability Application?
Apply for SSI Disability Benefits in South Carolina
How long does it take to get a disability decision in South Carolina?
How do you qualify for disability in South Carolina?

These pages answer some of the most basic questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim.

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.