What Constitutes A Disability?

Different agencies define a disability in different ways, but if you are applying for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA), then you must meet the SSA guidelines to qualify. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a person who has a disability has a mental or physical impairment that causes significant or substantial limitations on one or more major activities of life. The SSA views disabled as being unable to work and earn a living. To receive Social Security Disability, your condition must last a year or longer or be expected to result in your death.

The SSA View of Disability

To be approved for disability benefits – either Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) – the claimant must have an impairment that is either psychiatric, psychological, or medical in nature that keeps him or her from being able to do a substantial amount of work. Your condition must keep you from being able to earn a substantial gainful income, which as of 2024, is more than $1,550 per month. This amount is referred to as the threshold for substantial gainful activity (SGA), and those who are self-employed will have to meet other requirements to ensure they aren’t working over the allowable hours and they can deduct items necessary to make work possible for them, such as the cost of medical devices or prescriptions.

Meeting The Medical Requirements

To be approved for Social Security Disability benefits, you will need to supply medical records that contain specific evidence of your physical and/or mental impairments and how it keeps you from being able to earn a living. All medical evidence must be current with notes from the physician, exam notes, and test results being from the last 60 to 90 days. Unless Disability Determination Services (DDS) can tell that your medical condition is so severe that it meets the Blue Book medical criteria for a listing for an impairment, which will lead to automatic approval, Social Security will assess your health and determine what kind of work you are capable of performing.

What Constitutes A Disability?

Using The Medical-Vocational Allowance

If you don’t meet the specific criteria for a Blue Book listing, the SSA will decide if you can do light, medium, or sedentary work by reviewing your functional limitations as they are described in your medical records. As an example, your doctor’s notes might indicate you cannot stand more than one hour without resting, or you cannot walk for more than two hours, or you may not be able to lift more than 10 pounds. These notes are all indicated in a residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment, which can determine if you qualify for disability benefits.

Any psychiatric, cognitive, or psychological impairments are reviewed by the SSA as well with DDS reviewing medical records to determine if you can remember instructions, understand directions, maintain attention, concentrate, interact with others, and respond to any hazards and changes that they may encounter in the workplace. After everything has been assessed, the RFC is completed and the SSA will determine what kind of work – if any – can be done by the claimant. The RFC is used in conjunction with the claimant’s educational background, work experience, and transferrable job skills to determine if he or she is disabled.

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