What Does the SSA Consider “Disabled?”

Qualifying for Social Security Disability (SSD) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits can provide significant financial help to you and your family after suffering a disabling injury or being diagnosed with a disabling disorder. The Social Security Administration (SSA) runs a federal program that provides monetary benefits to people who qualify as “disabled” enough to have to miss work and lose income. Knowing what the SSA considers “disabled” is an important step in the application process, and can ultimately decide your outcome with this process.

The SSA’s Unique Definition of Disabled

The SSA does not define “disabled” along the same parameters as other programs, including Tennessee workers’ compensation. For the SSA to consider an applicant disabled enough to qualify for benefits, the applicant must have total disability. Partial or short-term disabilities will not qualify for federal benefits. In the SSA’s own words, someone can receive Social Security disability benefits if he or she:

  1. Cannot do the work he/she performed before the disability;
  2. Cannot adjust to other work due to the medical condition; and
  3. Has a disability that has lasted, or doctors expect to last at least one year, or to result in death.

These are the three main qualifiers that govern whether or not a disorder is disabling enough to receive SSD or SSI benefits. If your medical condition is not severe enough to qualify under the SSA’s strict definition of disability, consider other potential resources for financial support, such as workers’ compensation, insurance benefits, and litigation. Work with an attorney for assistance determining if and when you’re eligible for federal or state financial benefits after suffering a disabling injury or illness.

Examples of Disabilities in the Eyes of the SSA

It might appear that the definition of disabled is cut-and-dried in the eyes of the SSA, but this isn’t always the case. The SSA uses a rigorous five-step process to determine whether an applicant is truly disabled. The process involves reviewing medical records and other evidence, reading testimonies from employers and physicians, and checking the exhaustive Social Security Blue Book to see if it lists the disability in question. If the Blue Book has your medical condition, your odds of qualifying for benefits significantly improve. Examples of qualifying disabilities are as follows:

  • Amputations
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Burns
  • Cancers
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Chronic respiratory disorders
  • Chronic skin infections
  • Disorders of the spine
  • Epilepsy
  • Fracture of the pelvis, tibia, or femur
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Schizophrenia

The Blue Book lists hundreds of medical conditions, disorders, and serious injuries that qualify as “disabilities” to the SSA. If your condition is in the Blue Book, the SSA will most likely approve your application. If it’s not in the Blue Book, it will be up to the SSA to decide whether or not your condition is of equal severity to one that is on the list. Even if it’s not of equal severity, you could still qualify as “disabled” if the condition prevents you from returning to work or adjusting to work of a different caliber.

Proof the SSA Requires of a Disability

It’s not enough to say you have a medical condition or disability listed in the SSA’s Blue Book. The SSA requires evidence, or proof, of your disability. There are several forms of proof you might need when filing your benefits application. One is “objective medical evidence” from a source the SSA approves, such as a physician or therapist. You will need to submit your medical records, test results, and other evidence supporting your claim. Testimonies from your doctors can also go a long way toward proving your disability.

Remember, the Blue Book is not the end-all be-all of Social Security Disability benefits. If your condition isn’t in the Book, you may still qualify. Help from an attorney can make the application process easier, and take the pressure off of you. A lawyer understands all the requirements from the SSA during the application process, and can improve your odds of securing benefits.