What Does it Mean to be Disabled to the Social Security Administration?

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Posted by Corey Luedeman

The Social Security Administration (SSA) defines being disabled differently than you or your doctor does. Because of this, many disability applicants become frustrated or angry because they don’t meet the SSA’s definition of disabled and are therefore denied benefits.

For example, just because you’re not working does not, by itself, mean that you are considered disabled.

Similarly, just because a doctor says you cannot go back to work does not, by itself, make you disabled under the SSA’s rules. You may have a very serious medical condition that limits your working options and lifestyle, and the SSA may still not consider you disabled.

How Does the Social Security Administration Define Disabled?

Here’s how the SSA defines disabled:

1. You must have a severe medical impairment (or multiple impairments)

2. These impairments must prevent you from doing the type of work you used to do, AND

3. These impairments must prevent you from doing any other type of work.

If you don’t meet all of these requirements, the SSA will not consider you disabled and you will not receive disability benefits.

To determine whether you meet these requirements, the SSA asks five questions of each applicant:

1. Are you working?

Social Security Disability benefits are meant for people who can’t work due to disability. If you are able to work, you cannot participate in what the SSA calls “substantial gainful activity.” The SSA will look to see if you are earning any income – and if so, how much.

The income you get but don’t work for – like FMLA, short-term disability, or sick leave – does not count.

If you earn more than $1350 per month from working, you will not meet the SSA’s definition of disabled.

2. Do you have a “severe” medical impairment?

The Social Security Administration will look primarily at your medical records to determine if you have a “severe” medical impairment. They will look for any test results or doctors’ opinions or examinations of your symptoms. They will also work to determine if your impairment is expected to last more than one year or is likely to result in death.

If your impairment is not likely to result in death or will last less than one year, it’s unlikely the SSA will find you disabled.

3. Is your impairment listed in Social Security Law?

There is a list of certain severe conditions that will automatically qualify someone as disabled. This is found in Social Security Law. If you have one of these conditions, then the SSA will conclude that you are disabled and reward you with benefits.

This list is very detailed and usually requires a specific diagnosis and specific symptoms or medical test results. If you don’t meet all the requirements for one of these “listed conditions,” the SSA may decide that your condition is similar enough to consider you disabled.

4. Can you do any of your previous types of work?

The SSA will attempt to determine if you can return to any type of work you have done within the last 15 years. They will first identify your restrictions or limitations because of your medical impairment.

Next, they will compare those restrictions to the physical and mental requirements of jobs you have had in the last 15 years.

If the SSA finds you can perform any of this type of work, even with your limitations, you will not be found disabled. However, if they determine you cannot do any of your past work, they will then look to see if you can do any other type of work.

5. Can you do any other types of work?

Even if you can’t do the type of work you used to, the SSA will attempt to determine if there is some other type of less-demanding or less-strenuous work you are still able to do, given your limitations.

There isn’t a limit to the type of jobs Social Security will consider at this point. However, SSA will consider your age, your education level, and what skills you have in order to make a decision.

If they find you are able to adjust to any type of work – even if you have never done that job before – you will not be found disabled. If you have been denied Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, we may be able to help. Get your free, no-obligation case evaluation by calling RSH Legal today at 1-800-433-0283.

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