What do you Need to Prove to Qualify for Disability Benefits?

There is no specific formula to qualify for disability benefits in either the Social Security Disability or SSI disability program. However, in either program, the process is the same. An individual's medical records will be evaluated to determine if the following is true:

A) That the person filing for disability has a severe impairment - this means, regardless of whether the condition is physical or mental, it must impose significant limitations on the individual's ability to engage in normal daily activities (and, by extension of this logic, significant limitations on their ability to perform work activity or, if they are a child, significant limitations on their ability to engage in age-appropriate activities such as school work).

B) That the person filing for disability has an impairment that is long lasting. What does SSA mean by "long lasting"? In actuality, the concept is known as duration, meaning that a person's condition must be disabling for at least a period of twelve months. If an individual's condition is disabling according to the information provided by the claimant's medical records (which can include a statement from a personal physician) but not disabling for at least twelve months time, then the case will typically be denied.

Why do we say "typically denied"? Because when a claim is decided at the reconsideration appeal level or the level of an application for disability, then the durational requirement is an absolute. However, when the case is decided at the disability hearing level (meaning that it is being decided by a federal disability judge at the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review), it is sometimes the case that the claim for continuing, ongoing benefits will be denied but that the claimant will still be awarded for a closed period, meaning just the less-than-twelve month period that they were considered to be disabled.

What does the social security administration mean by disabled? The definition of disability is fairly simple. However, it is very different from the definition of disability used by the military and the veterans administration, and, likewise, very different from long term disability insurance programs.

To be considered disabled and eligible to receive disability benefits under either the SSD or SSI program, the condition (or set of conditions, as this is usually the case) must, as previously mentioned, be severe and must last at least twelve months in duration. However, in addition to this criteria, the individual's condition must also impose enough functional limitations that they are unable to work at the level of being able to earn a substantial and gainful income.

For child applicants, the definition of disability, of course, does not involve the inability to work, but the inability to engage in the activities of one's peers. Typically, child applicants for disability benefits are measured by their relative inability to perform academically, unless, that is, their
And this is also, of course, why
representation tends to be effective at the disability hearing level. Not only will a representative (this may be a disability attorney or a non-attorney social security representative) obtain additional documentation to strengthen the claim, but will often present a viewpoint of the case that will focus on A) why the case does meet the SSA definition of disability and perhaps B) point out why the case was erroneously denied at prior levels of the system.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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