How is disability is defined for Social Security purposes?

“Disability” can mean different things to different people. However, the Social Security Administration (SSA) follows strict guidelines outlining what it means to be disabled with regard to the receipt of benefit payments. Additionally, the SSA assumes that disabled people have access to other financial resources if they are unable to work. These may include unemployment benefits, workers’ compensation, family resources, and the like.

The SSA Definition of “Disability”

The SSA defines disability under the premise that you are unable to work. The exact definition of disability that allows you to qualify for benefits, however, demands that you meet all the criteria listed below.

  1. Your disabling condition has lasted or is expected to last a minimum of one year or will result in death
  2. You are unable to perform the same work duties that you did before you became disabled
  3. Your disabling condition does not allow you to be able adjust to a different type of employment per the SSA’s evaluation and decision

Common Qualifying Conditions

There are some medical conditions that automatically qualify you for SS benefits. However, each medical condition has its own set of criteria that may apply to your specific case in order for you to receive either Social Security Supplemental Income (SSSI) or Social Security Disability Income (SSDI). The SSA maintains a list of automatically qualifying medical conditions set forth in what is referred to as the “Blue Book.” The list comprises illnesses and impairments including asthma, cancer, COPD, digestive tract problems, hearing loss, heart conditions, hemolytic disorders including bone marrow suppression, immunological disorders, mental disorders including autism and depression, multiple sclerosis, musculoskeletal impairment, neurological problems, vision loss, and more.

Conditions listed in the Blue Book are not the only ones that can qualify you for disability benefits, and your condition doesn’t necessarily have to be a precise match to those that are. If there are components of your condition that render you unable to work or if your condition is not listed but is equally disabling as a listed condition, the SSA may still rule in your favor. In such a case, the SSA’s decision would be based on an analysis of your Residual Functional Capacity and Allowances (RFC), which is created by you, your doctor, and other relevant professionals.

Because the SSA adheres to strict rules when determining eligibility for benefits, It is crucial that you understand exactly how your disability fits within those rules and meets SSA criteria. Simply filling out your application incorrectly can mean the difference between eligibility and denial. If you think you have a legitimate claim for social security benefits due to disability or have been denied benefits, you should consult a disability attorney for further information.




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