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

Requirements for Disability


How do I meet the requirements for disability?

Author:Tim Moore, former Disability Examiner

To qualify for Social Security Disability or SSI benefits, you have to satisfy the Social Security definition of disability, as well as meet several requirements. Note: This information is based on how the process actually works and my own experience as a former disability claims examiner.

The first requirement: Are you working?

Qualifying for disability is based on how much you are able to work. If you are working when you apply, you cannot earn more than the SGA, or substantial gainful activity, amount. For 2020, this means that earning $1260 or more per month will immediately disqualify you without your medical records even being looked at (called a technical denial).

Please note: Most individuals are NOT working when they file for disability. So if you are working, particularly if you have a mental impairment, this may affect how the disability examiner views your claim when they try to assess your functional capacity (ability to work). Translation: it's usually better to not be working while you are applying for SSD or SSI.

The second requirement: Is your condition severe?

To qualify for disability, you must have a severe medical condition, which can be a physical or mental impairment, or several impairments; disability examiners look at your overall condition and how it affects your ability to work. What makes your condition severe for Social Security?

1. Your condition is severe if it prevents you from working completely, or prevents you from earning the SGA income level that we mentioned above.

2. Your condition is considered severe enough to meet the Social Security criteria if it already has, or will, keep you from working for at least a year.

How does Social Security decide you meet the disability requirements?

After you apply, your case is assigned to a disability examiner who will decide your case. The examiner will review your medical records and work history, based on the information on your application. At some point, they may contact you for additional information about your activities of daily living, your treatment sources, and your individual jobs. They may also schedule you for a medical consultative examination. If the examiner requests that you contact them, respond immediately.

The examiner has two ways they can potentially award you SSD or SSI disability benefits.

The 1st way: Getting approved through the impairment list

If you have a physical or mental condition that is in the Social Security list of impairments (also known as the blue book), you can be approved for disability if your medical records satisfy the listing criteria. There are two things to remember about listing approvals.

1. Most claims do not get approved this way because the approval criteria is very specific. Often, your medical records won't provide the right information.

2. Not all conditions are in the listings. For example, carpal tunnel syndrome, which is common, is not in the listings. Nor is Lyme disease.

If you have a condition that is listed, such as depression or seizure disorder, and you meet the listing requirements, then your case ends there. But what if your case doesn't fit this criteria?

The 2nd way: Being approved because you cannot return to work

If you aren't approved on a listing, a disability examiner, or a judge at a Social Security hearing, will look at your work history. They will determine what you are still physically and mentally capable of doing (your RFC, or residual functional capacity), and they will compare that to what your past work required of you. They do this to answer two questions.

Can you go back to your past work?

If Social Security decides you can do your past work, which can include any job you did in the last 15 years, then your case will be denied. This is where the importance of listing all your treatment sources, conditions, and symptoms really comes to light. Because you will want show as many functional limitations as possible to prove that you can't return to your past work.

If Social Security determines that you cannot go back to your past work, that is a positive development. However, it does not mean you are approved. At that point, a disability examiner or a judge will decide if you can do something else.

Can you do some type of other work?

What is other work? Other work is basically jobs that Social Security may claim you are capable of doing based on A) your age, B) your work skills, C) your level of education, and D) the physical and mental limitations you have.

This is where the information you provided about your work history becomes very important, because Social Security will try to determine if you have the ability to switch from your past work to something else.

For this reason, when you file your claim you need to be very specific about your past jobs. You need to give good descriptions of what you did on each job so the examiner can look up each job and the requirements it had. If your past jobs are not properly identified, that can play a role in having your case denied.

Getting a medical-vocational approval

If Social Security decides that you can't do other work, in addition to not being able to do your past work, you will be approved on your disability claim.

If you are denied at this step, of course, you will want to file an appeal immediately. You should also consider getting a disability attorney, particularly if your appeal is for a hearing.

What about the non-medical requirements for disability?

So far, we have mainly discussed the medical requirements for disability. What are the non-medical requirements? One of them we have already discussed which is that your work earnings need to be under the SGA level.

Work Credits

Another issue, however, is work credits. To receive Social Security Disability, you must be insured for the program and have a certain number of work credits. This page discusses this: Work credits for Social Security Disability.


If you are not insured for SSD, you may be considered for SSI. However, SSI also has it's own non-medical requirements. One is the same restriction on not going above the SGA earnings limit if you are working. The other, however, is the fact that SSI has a limit on how much a person can have in countable assets. That limit is set at $2000. To learn more about assets that count, go here: Countable assets for SSI.

Don't worry about non-medical requirements

Non-medical requirements are not something you should worry about. These will be considered at your time of application, including whether you apply for SSD or SSI. Your only concern will be the medical qualification process because this will specifically involve you providing information about your work, your conditions, your doctors, and possibly going to one or more medical examinations.

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:

Who qualifies for disability? - Qualifying is based on evidence of functional limitations
The Social Security Disability Approval Process and the Criteria for Decisions
How does Social Security Disability decide that you cannot work?
How do you Win Benefits under Social Security Disability or SSI?
Medical Disability Requirements for SSD and SSI
The non-medical Disability Requirements for SSD and SSI

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.