What is the Social Security Administration’s definition of disabled?

Man Holding a Disability Sign in His HandsAn individual must be considered disabled in order to qualify for Social Security disability benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has a strict set of requirements that must be met before disability benefits will be paid.

Qualifications for SSA Disability Benefits

The SSA uses a five-step sequential process to determine whether or not a claimant qualifies to receive Social Security disability benefits. These five steps are:

  1. Work Status. Social Security disability applicants cannot qualify for benefits if they are engaged in substantial gainful activity (SGA). For 2019, any individual earning more than $1,220 a month is considered to be engaged in SGA. Most claimants have no difficulty complying with the work status requirement since they have already stopped working due to their disability.
  2. Severity Assessment. To qualify for disability payments, a claimant’s impairment must be severe enough to completely interfere with basic work-related activities. It also must last, or be expected to last, at least 12 months. Disabilities that only mildly interfere with an applicant’s ability to work for less than one year are unlikely to be considered severe.
  3. Disabling Conditions. The SSA has established an extensive list of medical conditions that may qualify claimants as disabled, known as the listing of impairments. If the claimant’s medical ailment is found in the listing of impairments, it will typically qualify for disability benefits. Even if the medical condition isn’t specifically listed, it may still qualify for benefits if it is of equal severity to an ailment that is on the list.
  4. Previous Relevant Employment. The next step in the sequential evaluation process involves determining the claimant’s ability to perform past relevant work, which relies upon their residual functional capacity (RFC). Determining RFC involves assessing the claimant’s medical records to discover which tasks may still be performed. If the applicant is found to be incapable of doing the lightest possible work they have performed previously, the claim will move on to the final step.
  5. Performing Other Work. In the final step of the assessment process, the SSA considers the applicant’s education, work experience, and age when determining the claimant’s ability to perform other work. This step may involve consulting a vocational expert to determine the jobs that a claimant may be capable of performing.

Receiving Social Security Disability Benefits

As you can see, the SSA considers many factors when determining whether or not a claimant qualifies as disabled. If you are entitled to SSA benefits, an experienced disability benefits attorney can help you receive the compensation you deserve. To learn more, contact the Injury & Disability Law Center by clicking the Live Chat button on this page.


Joshua Worley
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Roswell, NM Social Security and Veterans Disability Lawyer