The Social Security Administration (SSA) oversees the distribution of federal disability benefits for two programs. Both programs, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), require applicants to meet a standard definition of disability.
Am I Disabled?
To understand whether you may qualify for disability benefits, consider the following questions:
- Are you currently working? Social Security disability benefits are reserved for individuals who cannot perform work at substantial levels. If you work full-time, you likely won’t qualify.
- If you are working, how much do you earn monthly? Individuals working who also qualify for disability cannot exceed earnings above Social Security’s Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) limit. For 2022, that limit is $1,350 per month.
- If you are unable to work, how long have you been out of work? Individuals not working must suffer from severe medical impairments. These impairments must last for at least 12 consecutive months.
- Have you sought out lessor work? Social Security’s definition of disability states that recipients must not be able to perform substantial work of ANY kind. If you had a physically demanding job you can no longer perform, you must seek out less physically demanding work. If you cannot perform less demanding work, you may meet program criteria.
- Is your medical impairment severe and long-lasting in nature? Your medical impairments must be severe and long-term in nature. If you recover or improve over the short-term, you may not qualify.
- Have you sought treatment from medical providers? Do you comply with treatment recommendations? The Social Security Administration reviews medical evidence submitted from your treating providers. They use this evidence to determine the severity of your impairments. If you lack treatment, your claim also lacks medical evidence. Additionally, failing to comply with treatment recommendations can also hurt your claim. Particularly if those treatments could improve your condition.
- Do you have issues with substance abuse? Past or current substance abuse won’t always impact your claim negatively. But, if your substance abuse is “material” this could impact your claim in a negative way. This concept is too in-depth for the scope of this blog. However, a good way to determine if your substance abuse might be “material” is to consider whether your disability would be lessened or eliminated without the abuse. If it would, the substance abuse may be “material” to your claim.
- How old are you? Since a claimant must be unemployable for at least 12 months or longer, SSA considers how easily a claimant could adapt to or adjust to other work if their current work is too difficult. Social Security also assumes that as you near retirement or advanced age (>50 years old), it becomes more difficult for you to adjust to new skills or new work. Younger claimants must meet a higher standard.
What is the Definition of Disability?
The Social Security Administration (SSA) defines disability in the following way:
“The inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.”
The definition of disability for children under the age of 18 is slightly different. The disability standard for children requires evidence of a physical or mental impairment or combination thereof that causes marked and severe functional limitations.
SSDI vs. SSI Disability
In addition to answering the above, you’ll want to consider which disability program(s) is appropriate for you. SSDI is a work-based disability program for people with disabilities who are no longer able to work because of one or more severe medical conditions. Disabled workers are eligible to apply for SSDI if they have worked long enough and earned sufficient wages over the past 10 years to contribute to the SSDI program. Workers contribute to SSDI via their annual FICA taxes.
Alternatively, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a financial needs-based program for disabled individuals with limited income and assets. Both programs have the same definition of disability but have different financial and qualifying criteria.
In closing, we hope you found this post helpful as you consider the process of applying for or appealing a denied disability claim. While you can navigate the disability process without assistance, most claimants choose to work with a disability lawyer on their claim.
If you or someone you know is unable to work due a severe mental or physical impairment, contact the Collins Price, PLLC disability lawyers in Charlotte, NC for a free consultation on your claim. There is no obligation to hire our firm and no charge for the consultation.