Overview of Disability

Disability Back Pay

Disability Requirements

Disability Applications

Disability Advice Tips

How long do cases take?

How to win Disability

SSD Mistakes to avoid

Disability for Mental

What if you get denied?

How to file Appeals

Disability through SSA

SSI Disability Benefits

Disability for Children

How do I qualify for it?

Working and Disability

Disability Award Notice

Disability Lawyer Q&A

Disability Conditions List

What is a disability?

Your Medical Evidence

Filing for your Disability

Disability Eligibility

SSD SSI Definitions

Recent Questions

SSDRC Disability Blog

Who qualifies for disability? - Qualifying is based on evidence of functional limitations

Qualifying for disability benefits (SSD or SSI) is a matter of proving one's case through A) strong objective medical evidence and vocational evidence, combined with B) a logical, rational argument for approval that is based on the Social Security Administration's rules and regulations, i.e. administrative requirements.

Though there is a list of medical impairments with detailed approval criteria, the majority of claims are not approved in this manner. Listing-level requirements tend to be very specific and, in most cases, a person's medical evidence will not contain this level of detail. For the vast majority of claimants, winning a claim will involve proving that they have functional limitations that rule out the ability to engage in work activity.

What needs to be proven in order to qualify?

In the Social Security Disability and SSI system, a simple diagnosis of a condition will not result in an approval for benefits. The emphasis is on how the individual's condition affects, and limits, their ability to engage in normal daily activities, and the ability to perform work activity.

Related: What kind of cases win disability benefits?

For this reason, potentially anyone qualifies for disability benefits through one or both of the disability programs administered by the Social Security Administration...provided they can do the following:

1. Prove they have at least one severe medical impairment that is documented by objective medical evidence.

2. Prove that the condition has resulted in the types of limitations that, given the particular demands of their past work, make it impossible to return to their past work. For example, a person whose past work required them to climb ladders but now has significant degenerative disc disease would probably be found to be unable to return to this type of work.

3. Prove that they also lack the ability to switch to some type of other work that they would usually qualify for--were it not for their combination of medical factors and vocational factors (this would include their age, education, and job skills).

4. Finally, the person's disabling condition must last at least one full year while being severe enough to make it impossible for them to engage in work activity.

Note: a person does not have to wait until they have been out of work for a full year before applying. You can apply for disability at any time and SSA (through a disability examiner or judge) will be able to review the evidence and determine whether or not your condition will be disabling for this length of time.

Is there a difference between Social Security Disability and SSI?

The two programs administered by SSA -- Social Security disability (SSD) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) -- have the same medical disability qualifications. Any person who files for disability must go through the same medical disability process to be found medically disabled for disability benefits.

In fact, disability examiners who make decisions on disability applications and reconsideration appeals make no distinctions between the two programs. The only time the two programs are considered separately is when an individual initially files their claim and the Social Security field office CR (claims representative) must determine whether they might qualify for SSD benefits based on work credits, or qualify for SSI disability based on need.

The medical disability evaluation process involves an application for disability benefits. During the application interview, Social Security claims representatives gather information about medical treatment sources, treatment dates, medications, testing, etc. They also get information about the types of work a person has had in the last fifteen years, which is what SSA refers to as the relevant work period.

More on the differences between the two programs at: What is the difference between Social Security Disability and SSI?

How is a disability claim worked on?

After a disability application is taken at a Social Security field office, it is transferred to the DDS agency in that state. Immediately, the case is assigned to a disability examiner. Just as immediately, the examiner will begin to send out requests for the claimant's medical records.

The wait for these records constitutes the single largest delay on a case. However, once the records arrive--usually, this takes weeks or even months for all the records to come in--the examiner will be in a position to evaluate the fundamentals of the case.

Note: when a case is particularly strong, the examiner may not have to wait for all the records. The decision may be made with just some of the records if they do support a finding of disabled. This is also where a disability representative or a non-attorney disability representative may provide some early benefit on a case by doing pre-hearing case development and attempting to win the claim without the need for a hearing and all the extra months of waiting which that entails for the claimant.

Looking at the records, the examiner will be able to determine if the claimant has a condition that is listed in the impairment listings and whether or not they meet the listing criteria. As we noted, this is usually not the case. The examiner will then review the records to get an idea of what the claimant's residual functional capacity is, i.e. what they can still do despite their impairment.

This is for the purpose of determining if the claimant may be approved on the basis of what is known as a medical vocational allowance. Essentially, a claimant is approved this way when the final determination is that they cannot be expected to return to work due to the severity of their condition(s) and the limitations that are caused by it.

Just to restate: the Social Security disability process requires that a personís medical or mental conditions prevent them from performing any of their past jobs or any other kind of job they might be qualified to do considering their job skills, education, age, and functional limitations. If a person is prevented from doing any kind of substantial work activity, it is likely they will be medically approved for disability benefits.

However, there is more to Social Security disability benefit eligibility than a medical approval. Disability applicants must meet the non-medical requirements of one or both disability programs before their disability claim may be sent to a disability examiner (examiners make decisions on disability applications) for a medical determination.

More on how disability claims are worked on:

How Will Social Security Decide a Disability Case that's filed?

Social Security Disability Tips ó how a claim gets worked on.

Coverage for an SSD Claim

Every Social Security disability claim is based upon an insured status. Social Security disability is actually an insurance program that an individualís earnings establish insured status for through their payroll deductions. Internal Revenue reported wages create an individualís Social Security earnings record and each year an individual may earn as many as four quarters of coverage. These quarters of coverage, or work credits, determine if they are insured for Social Security disability benefits.

There are a few advantages to being insured for Social Security disability benefits vs SSI. Sometimes, there are additional benefits payable for an individualís children or spouses should they be approved for disability benefits. Additionally, most Social Security disability beneficiaries receive higher monthly disability benefits than do SSI recipients. If a Social Security disability beneficiary has a very low monthly disability benefit, it is possible that they may be entitled to both SSD and SSI. However, the amount they will receive will be no more than the SSI disability monthly earnings limit.

How Many Work Credits Do You Need To Have For SSI or Social Security Disability Eligibility?

Coverage for an SSI Claim

If an individual does not have a sufficient amount of quarters of coverage to be insured for Social Security disability, they may still meet the requirements of the Supplemental Security Income disability program. SSI is a disability program designed to help individuals who have not worked, have not worked much, or who have worked too far in the past to be insured for Social Security disability. The SSI disability program has a program for disabled children as well (All disability claims for minor-age disabled children are taken through SSI).

SSI Eligibility requirements for SSI disability involve resource ("resource" is a term for assets that affect SSI) and income limits. In this way, SSI is like many other social help programs.

Claims representatives evaluate for SSI eligibility when they conduct their disability interviews. Resources for the purposes of an SSI eligibility determination might include but are not limited to vehicles, boats, motorcycles, pensions, bank accounts, stocks, bonds, 401Ks, land, homes, heir property, jewelry, or any other items that can be easily converted to cash.

Income for the purposes of being SSI eligible might include wages, unemployment benefits, workmanís compensation benefits, VA benefits, etc. Currently, Social Security allows an individual to have $2000.00 in resources and couples are allowed to have $3000.00 in resources. They exclude the home and land an individual or couple uses as a residence and the most expensive vehicle owned from this limit.

Income limits are not so concrete because they are variable to the number of children in the household. When an individual completes their interview, the claims representative will evaluate their household composition and determine if they are under the income limits for the SSI disability program.

Can you qualify for SSI and still not qualify?

The income and resource limits are so important to the SSI disability program that an individual who is medically approved for disability benefits may be denied for disability benefits at the "end line SSI interview" for income or resources even if their medical records indicate that they otherwise satisfy the Social Security Administration definition of disability.

Return to:  Social Security Disability Resource Center, or read answers to Questions

Related pages:

Who qualifies for disability? - Qualifying is based on evidence of functional limitations
How to qualify for disability - The Process of Qualifying for Benefits
To qualify for Social Security disability or SSI, how severe must a condition be?
Can You Qualify for Disability if you did not work much?
How Do You Qualify For Disability without Money To Go To the Doctor?
The Qualification Criteria for Social Security Disability
What If You Did Not Work Long Enough To Qualify For Disability?
Qualifying for disability benefits with the social security administration
Qualifying for Disability - What is Social Security Looking for?
Do You Qualify For Social Security Disability Insurance?
What do you Need to Prove to Qualify for Disability Benefits?
What kind of Mental Problems Qualify for Disability?
Do You Have To Qualify For SSI Financially?
How does work qualify you for disability? (work credits)

Information on the following topics can be found here: Social Security Disability Questions and in these subsections:

Frequently asked questions about getting Denied for Disability Benefits | FAQ on Disability Claim Representation | Info about Social Security Disability Approvals and Being Approved | FAQ on Social Security Disability SSI decisions | The SSD SSI Decision Process and what gets taken into consideration | Disability hearings before Judges | Medical exams for disability claims | Applying for Disability in various states | Selecting and hiring Disability Lawyers | Applying for Disability in North Carolina | Recent articles and answers to questions about SSD and SSI

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

Filing for disability - How to file for SSD or SSI and the Information that is needed by Social Security
How to Apply for Disability - What medical conditions can you apply and qualify for?
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?
How to Prove you are disabled and qualify to win disability benefits
How do you prove your disability case if you have a mental condition or impairment?
Social Security Disability Back pay and How Long it Takes to Qualify for it and receive it
Social Security Disability SSI - Eligibility Requirements and Qualifications Criteria