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What is “Disabled”?

What is “Disabled”?


When it comes to Social Security Disability, many people want to know what qualifies them as “disabled”. The best answer for this is that each case is unique, and will be assessed as such by Social Security. For some, this may be welcome news, as their case may be truly unusual and requires very personal, in-depth examination in order to understand the extent of the problem. For others, the lack of clear answers can be disheartening.

Social Security does have some guidelines to certifying a disability, however. A person’s disability may be medical, psychological or psychiatric in nature, and of course substantial evidence must be supplied by a doctor in order to support these claims. The key to whether a particular condition qualifies a person as “disabled” lies in their ability to perform Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) – or, in other words, their ability to work and earn a living.

In order to qualify for Social Security Disability, the individual must have been prevented from performing gainful activity for a period of twelve months, or be expected to be unable to work for at least 12 months. Substantial Gainful Activity is generally defined as being able to work and earn at least 1,040 dollars per month. If an individual is working and earning more than $1,040 per month, he or she will be automatically disqualified – called a “technical denial”.

As for the disabling condition itself, medical conditions must be documented by a qualified physician, and must detail the individual’s “functional limitations” which prevent him or her from being able to work. The records must be up to date and reflect information from the past 60 to 90 days. For psychological or psychiatric conditions, Social Security will evaluate whether the applicant is capable of basic job skills such as understanding and following instructions, maintaining concentration, interacting with others in the workplace, and so on.

Social Security does maintain an “Impairment Listing”, also known as a Blue Book, which contains conditions that automatically qualify for Social Security Disability. The individual’s condition must meet specified criteria for these impairments, and of course the other criteria for approval must be met as well. This underscores the importance of an accurate medical evaluation and diagnosis, as this can shorten approval time in some cases.