How the Social Security Administration defines disability

Understanding the requirements for Social Security disability is no small feat. Not surprisingly, the Social Security Administration recently published a Q&A on that subject.

The article clarifies the SSA’s definition of disability. To be eligible for benefits, an applicant for Social Security disability insurance or Supplemental Security Income must not be able to work -- either in his or her former job, or in other work that is common in our current national economy.

In other words, the degree of incapacitation caused by a disability must render an individual unable to perform work duties in his or her industry, not just in a former job. That severity of impairment must also be anticipated to last for at least one year. Otherwise, SSA disability examiners might regard a disability as short-term, and consequently ineligible for SSDI payments.

Significantly, the evidence documenting an individual’s impaired functioning may be more important than the actual diagnosis. For example, certain conditions, taken alone, might not be severe enough to prevent an individual from working. When combined, however, the cumulative effect of those physical and/or mental conditions may prevent a worker from performing his or her work duties.

Questions also arise about the length of work history needed to qualify for SSDI benefits. For every year that an individual works, the SSA can award up to four work credits, depending on the amount of wages earned. Fortunately, the exact number of work credits needed for SSDI eligibility is adjusted for an applicant’s age. For applicants seeking SSI benefits, eligibility is based on income and other factors, instead of work credits.

Source: Pantagraph, “Social Security Q&A 02/17/14,” Feb. 17, 2014