Disability Benefits - SSI and SSDI

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The definition of disability under Social Security is different than other programs. Social Security pays only for total disability. No benefits are payable for partial disability or for short-term disability.

Disability under Social Security is based on your inability to work. You are considered disabled under Social Security rules if you cannot do work that you did before and they decide that you cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition(s). Your disability must also last or be expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.

This is a strict definition of disability. Social Security program rules assume that working families have access to other resources to provide support during periods of short-term disabilities, including workers' compensation, insurance, savings and investments.

How does the SSA determine if you are disabled?
To determine disability, they use a series of five steps:

  1. Are you working?
    If you are working in the current year, and your earnings average more than $810 a month, you generally cannot be considered disabled. If you are not working, we go to Step 2.

  2. Is your condition "severe"?
    Your condition must interfere with basic work-related activities for your claim to be considered. If it does not, the SSA will find that you are not disabled. If your condition does interfere with basic work-related activities, they go to Step 3.

  3. Is your condition found in the list of disabling conditions?
    For each of the major body systems, the SSA maintains a list of medical conditions that are so severe they automatically mean that you are disabled. If your condition is not on the list, they have to decide if it is of equal severity to a medical condition that is on the list. If it is, they will find that you are disabled. If it is not, then then go to Step 4.

  4. Can you do the work you did previously?
    If your condition is severe but not at the same or equal level of severity as a medical condition on the list, then the SSA must determine if it interferes with your ability to do the work you did previously. If it does not, your claim will be denied. If it does, they proceed to Step 5.

  5. Can you do any other type of work?
    If you cannot do the work you did in the past, the SSA see if you are able to adjust to other work. They consider your medical conditions and your age, education, past work experience and any transferable skills you may have. If you cannot adjust to other work, your claim will be approved. If you can adjust to other work, your claim will be denied.

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