Do you fit the SSA's definition of "disabled"?
"Disability" is defined under Social Security laws somewhat differently than it is used in other contexts. The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program does not cover short-term or partial disabilities. Only total disabilities are covered by SSDI. Total disabilities have three requirements. They prohibit the person from doing the work he or she once did, prohibit the person from adjusting to a new type of work and last or are expected to last at least 12 months or result in death.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses a five-step process to determine whether an applicant meets the agency's definition of disabled. You can make an initial determination yourself by using the SSA's Disability Planner. You will need to consider the following:
Are you currently working?
Typically, you must not be gainfully employed (paid to work) in order to be considered disabled. If you are currently working and earned or are earning more than $1,010 per month (according to 2012 rates) it is unlikely that you will qualify.
Are you suffering from a "severe" physical or mental condition?
Your medical condition, whether it is physical or mental, must actually interfere with your ability to work. If your condition interferes with your ability to perform basic functions associated with your job, you may be considered disabled.
Is your condition included in the list of disabilities?
The SSA maintains a list of disabilities, medical conditions that are so severe that they are automatically considered disabilities. Most of these are permanent or are expected to result in death. If your condition is not included on the list, you may still qualify. You will need to provide supporting documentation, such as medical records, that your condition is severe, interferes with your ability to perform basic work functions and will last at least 12 months or is expected to result in death.
Can you perform the work you previously did?
In a situation where an SSDI applicant's condition is not included in the list of disabilities, the SSA will need to determine whether this condition will interfere with the applicant's ability to perform the work that he or she once did.
Can you perform any other type of work?
If the SSA determines that the applicant cannot perform the work he or she once did, the next step will be to determine whether the applicant can perform other types of work. The SSA will make a determination of whether the applicant can adjust to different work based upon his or her education, training, abilities, etc.
Once approved, a disabled worker will receive Social Security disability benefits for the duration of his or her disability. The SSA will review cases from time to time to determine whether a worker's health has improved enough for him or her to return to work. They will inform workers of impending reviews, and disabled workers are urged to contact the SSA if their health improves and they want to return to the workforce. When such a review will occur depends on whether the worker's condition is expected to improve.
Others Who May Qualify
There are some people who may qualify for SSDI benefits under special circumstances. The legally blind may be entitled to disability benefits while working. Widows or widowers of disabled workers, disabled children and wounded warriors may also be entitled to SSDI benefits.
Determining whether you meet disability requirements is just one of the parts of applying for SSDI benefits. Having a legal professional who is familiar with the Social Security system by your side can help you better understand what rights and responsibilities you have; this, in turn, can help you secure benefits.