How Disabled Do You Have to Be to Get Disability?

The legal definition of disability under Social Security is tricky and has a lot of vague terms which I will explain. The law defines disability as the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months .Here is a breakdown of some of this definition.

Why twelve months?

The duration requirement of the disability definition is an important part of the Social Security Administration’s definition of disability. Medical conditions that are otherwise disabling but which fail to meet this minimum length requirement will be denied on the basis of duration. Note that you do not have to wait until you have had your condition for one full year- if your condition will eventually last one full year, then it meets the durational requirement.

Does Social Security grant partial or temporary disability benefits?

Social Security disability and SSI are total disability programs. When a person is awarded disability benefits, the award is made under the assumption that the claimant will receive the benefits indefinitely, until such time as a future review determines that the individual has achieved medical improvement of their condition.

What is Substantial Gainful Activity?

For a condition to be considered disabling for an adult, it must result in the loss of the ability to engage in work activity while earning a substantial and gainful income. There is a set dollar amount for SGA earnings. In 2017 this amount was set at $1,070. Thus, if you are working and earning this amount of money you are considered working and will not qualify for benefits. In fact, your medical impairment will not even be looked.

How does the Social Security Administration measure the severity of a condition?

You must have a severe impairment that causes significant functional limitations. One form of measuring severity is if your medical and/or mental condition(s) have been so severe as to prevent or severely limit your activities of daily living (ADLs).

General Ways  to Qualify Once Your Condition is Considered Severe

One way to quality for disability is to meet or equal a Listing of Impairment (this is discussed in another blog).  Social Security uses a guidebook that contains various impairments to address most medical and mental conditions. If your condition is so severe that your symptoms satisfy said criteria, you are awarded disability benefits. If your condition does not fulfill the criteria of a Listing, but you still have a condition that causes limitations significant enough to prevent you from engaging in work, you may be awarded disability benefits through a medical “vocational allowance”. If you cannot do any of your former jobs, the examiner will look to your education and work skills, giving consideration to your age and functional limitations. If it is decided that you cannot be expected, based on the severity of your condition, to be able to do some type of other work, you are likely to be awarded disability benefits. Your medical records and opinions from your doctors will be evaluated to determine your functional limitations.

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