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SSDRC Disability Blog

What does social security mean by disability, i.e. what is the definition?

The definition of disability used by the Social Security Administration is different from what many applicants and potential applicants might expect. Many individuals mistakenly assume the following:

1. That social security disability and SSI disability provide for temporary disability benefits.

2. That social security disability and SSI disability provide for partial disability benefits.

3. That social security disability and SSI disability are based on a complete inability to work at the individual's last job.

4. That social security disability and SSI disability are based on recommendations from a claimant's physician.

Let's discuss these in order. First of all, the SSD and SSI disability programs do not provide for temporary disability benefits. When a person is approved for disability, the award is granted based on a presumption that the claimant may be permanently disabled. Social Security does have a process for periodically reviewing claims to see if a person remains disabled and, thus, eligible to receive benefits. And this process involves having the claimant go through a CDR, or continuing disability review, every few years.

If the review finds that no medical improvement has taken place, the claimant's benefits will be continued. However, even though a review process exists, claims are nonetheless decided on the assumption that a person's state of disability will be long-standing or permanent, and not at all temporary.

Secondly, SSA (the social security administration) does not award claims on the basis of partial disability. That is, if a person loses the use of a limb or an eye, they cannot be approved for benefits on the basis of this alone. They also cannot be approved for a percentage loss of use of a limb, or an eye, or an ear, etc.

Thirdly, SSA does not make decisions on the basis of whether or not a claimant is unable to do their past job. Past work does play a role. However, individuals who are found to be unable to go back to a past job may still be denied on the basis that they can can do something else.

Fourth and finally, SSA does not make decisions based solely on what a person's treating physician has to say about their condition. A medical source statement from a doctor that has a history of providing treatment (i.e. a treating physician) can provide a basis for the approval of a claim.

However, this statement must refer to the claimant's remaining level of function (their residual functional capacity, or RFC) and it must also be supported by the physician's own record of treatment.

If a doctor supplies a statement that their patient is totally disabled, but the statement does not provide any information regarding their patient's limitations, then the statement will be practically useless. By the same token, if a doctor provides a detailed statement that supports their patient's claim for disability but this statement is in contradiction to the physician's own treatment notes, then the statement may not be regarded as valid and may be rejected.

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

Related pages:

What is the Social Security definition of disability?
How does social security define disability?
What does social security mean by disability, i.e. what is the definition?
What does the social security administration definition of disability actually say?
What is a disability according to the Social Security Administration?
Why is the Social Security Administration definition of disability so strict?

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.

How to file for disability, SSD or SSI
How to file for Disability and what medical conditions qualify
How long will it take to get disability?
What if your disability gets denied?
How to Prove you are disabled and qualify to win disability benefits
How to get disability with a mental condition
How long for Social Security Disability Back pay
Social Security Disability SSI eligibility