How the U.S. Social Security Administration defines “disability”

When you have an injury, illness or disability that prevents you from making enough to support yourself, you may decide to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance from the U.S. Social Security Administration. The process is sometimes long and complex. However, your chances of having the administration approve you for benefits increase when you meet its narrow definition of “disability.”

Because the SSA reserves SSDI benefits for Americans who have only the most severe disabilities that are unlikely to improve moving forward, you may find that the SSA denies benefits if you are unable to prove yourself disabled. How does the SSA determine whether you have what it considers to be a disability?

By seeing if you are working

SSDI benefits help those who are unable to earn an income for themselves. So, if you are working and pulling in more than a certain amount, the SSA is unlikely to approve you for benefits. If you are not working, the SSA moves on to the next step in determining eligibility, which involves deciding if your condition is severe.

By assessing whether your condition is severe

To determine if your condition is severe, the SSA considers whether you are able to perform basic functions necessary for employment such as standing and walking. To receive approval for benefits, your condition must prevent you from performing these basic functions for at least a year.

By reviewing your ability to work

If you are not working, the SSA may review whether you could be, or if you could be if you were to modify your tasks or schedule so that they become more manageable for you.

The SSA typically also checks to see if the condition you have appears on its existing list of disabling conditions.

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