What is the Social Security Definition of Disability?


The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs are total disability programs. You will not receive cash benefits unless you prove that you have a permanent disability that prevents you from working. People with short term or temporary disabilities are not eligible for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits.


This is a key difference between Social Security Disability and workers’ compensation benefits. Those of you who are hurt on the job may qualify for temporary total disability benefits if you are out of work more than seven days. And you are entitled to permanent partial disability benefits if you have any level of permanent impairment because of your work injury. Indeed, it’s possible to receive cash payments if you have just 1 percent loss of use of a limb due to a work accident. This is not the case with Social Security.


If you are an adult applying for disability, you must satisfy the definition of disability used by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to decide claims. To meet the SSA’s definition of disability you must be unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) because of a severe physical or mental medical impairment that has either lasted, or can be expected to last, for at least one year. If you are awarded disability benefits, the SSA will conduct future evaluations every 1 to 3 years after you are approved to make sure you remain disabled and satisfy the SSD eligibility requirements.


This article takes a closer look at each of the components that make up the Social Security definition of disabled. Keep reading to learn more. And if you have any questions, or are looking for legal representation at your Social Security hearing, contact Richmond disability lawyer and Norfolk SSD attorney Corey Pollard for a free consultation. We are ready to help you and your loved ones get the cash payments you deserve.


Defining Disabled under the Social Security Act


1. An Inability to Engage in Substantial Gainful Activity


There is a common misconception that you are unable to work while filing for disability or pursuing your claim. This misunderstanding is why many disabled workers wait to apply for disability until they can no longer work at all, which can cause increased financial stress and physical pain.


The Social Security definition of disability, however, does not state that a claimant is unable to work while seeking disability benefits. It simply states that a claimant must be unable to work at a certain level known as “substantial gainful activity.”


Substantial gainful activity has a strict definition under Social Security’s rules and regulations. It is determined by your earnings amount per month. If you earn more than a certain amount each month, then the SSA will find that you have engaged in substantial gainful activity and deny your case.


So long as your earnings are underneath the SGA amount, you can still qualify for disability benefits. This allows you to work part-time to try to make ends meet financially while you wait for a resolution of your disability claim.


It is important, however, that you consult with a disability attorney if you are working part-time while seeking disability. You should prepare a response to the inevitable questions you will get from the administrative law judge (ALJ) hearing your case asking why your earnings or hours were limited. If your hours were limited due to your physical or mental medical impairments, you have a better chance of getting awarded benefits than if your hours were limited because the company had no further need for your services.


2. Medically Determinable Physical or Mental Impairment(s)


A medically determinable physical or mental impairment is a condition that results from anatomical (body structure), physiological (body functions and activities), or psychological (the mind or mental state) abnormalities that can be shown using medically acceptable clinical and laboratory and diagnostic studies. Your official medical diagnoses are a good place to look for medically determinable physical or mental impairments.


The SSA will find you have a certain physical or mental impairment only if you can prove it through objective medical evidence from an acceptable medical source. This evidence may include: findings by our treating physician during a physical or mental examination; your subjective complaints and symptoms at doctor appointments; and, diagnostic test results from X-rays, MRIs, or CT scans.


Though the bar to prove that you have a medically determinable impairment is low, the SSA needs more than just your complaints and allegations to find that you have a medical condition that affects your ability to work. This is why it’s so important that you get into medical treatment and comply with your doctor’s orders. The medical records and reports from your treating physicians can help you meet the Social Security definition of disability.


3. Duration of Disability


Your medical impairment must be severe enough to disable you for at least one continuous year. This is an absolute requirement.


You are not, however, required to have had a certain medical condition, or set of medical conditions, for an entire year before you are allowed to file for disability or before the SSA can approve you for disability. The individuals who will decide your SSA claim have the authority to predict whether your condition is likely to last a year or longer based on the medical records and other evidence in the file.


For example, if you were left paralyzed after a car accident, you will be unable to walk for the remainder of your life. There would be no reason for the SSA to wait a full year before approving your claim.


Many people apply for disability benefits after suffering a work injury or short-term condition that is unlikely to produce the long-term effects necessary to qualify for Social Security. That’s ok. If you are in doubt, contact a disability attorney to discuss whether you should move forward with your claim and see how your recovery progresses.


Get Help Proving You’re Disabled!


The Social Security definition of disability may seem simple and straightforward, but proving each of the components is anything but. The SSA has issued tens of thousands of judicial opinions interpreting this definition.


If you are thinking of applying for Social Security, or have a pending claim, get a strong advocate in your corner. Contact Corey Pollard for help proving that you meet the SSA’s definition of disability. We know the facts and evidence necessary to win your case. And there is no fee unless you get approved for benefits.