Defining Disability Under Social Security Disability Insurance

Calendar Icon Updated February 21, 2019
Social Security Disability

The Social Security Administration strictly defines one word in particular—disability.

To be considered disabled and qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits, also known as SSDI, federal law requires that one’s medical condition be so severe it’s expected to last one full year or more, or result in death.

The medical condition must prevent a worker from not only doing the work that he or she once did, but also hinder him or her from adjusting to other forms of work. The definition one must fit to qualify for SSDI is strictly a result of one’s inability to do any form of work.

Beyond meeting the definition of disability, the Administration and the Disability Determination Services must also establish whether or not the condition is severe enough. Generally speaking, to be considered severe, the disability must significantly limit a worker’s ability to perform basic activities on the job such as standing, lifting, walking, sitting, or remembering. This must go on for at least 12 months.

The condition must also be listed on the Social Security Administration’s list, which is a comprehensive listing of medical conditions and circumstances that automatically meet the definition of disabled.

If a condition is on this list, a claim for Social Security Disability Insurance will almost certainly be approved. If a condition is not on this list, one can still qualify for disability benefits so long as the DDS decides the severity is equal to a medical condition on the list.

Some applicants might automatically meet the definition of disability. To expedite these types of disability claims, the Social Security Administration has instated Compassionate Allowances. These allowances mean that a disability can be immediately qualified following the diagnosis. Examples include Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), pancreatic cancer, acute leukemia and more.

Why so strict?

There are absolutely no short-term disability benefits granted by the Social Security Administration under this definition. The Social Security Administration assumes that working families can find other support during short-term disability periods through access to insurance, workers’ compensation, savings, and even investments.

To learn more about meeting the Social Security Administration’s definition of disability or to apply for Social Security Disability Benefits, visit the Social Security Administration website.

Eligibility Team

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