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How Does Social Security
Define “Disability?

  Most people are aware that the Social Security Administration is a part of the federal government and that it pays older, retired people monthly checks. What you may not realize, however, is that the Social Security Administration also issues monthly checks to disabled children and disabled adults who are less than 62 years of age.  This web site is about Social Security’s disability programs.

Social Security's Definition of Disability

  In order to be eligible for Social Security disability, you must be "disabled." For Social Security purposes, a person is "disabled" if he/she has a medical problem that prevents that person from working. In addition, the medical problem must be severe enough that it will last at least a year or severe enough where it might result in death.

  As a practical matter, Social Security disability is primarily about a person's ability to work. Stated another way, in order to prove that you are disabled, you often need to prove that you cannot work even a simple, unskilled job. For example, imagine yourself working as an packer, where you sit at a table and pack items in a box; imagine yourself as a cashier at a parking lot; imagine yourself as a nighttime security system monitor. Could you perform one of these very simple, low stress, low exertion jobs 8 hours a day, 5 days a week?

Emphasis of Work Capacity

  Note the emphasis on your ability to perform a simple job. It is not enough to have a serious medical or mental health problem.  You must have an identifiable medical problem and that problem must prevent you from functioning in a normal work environment.

The One Year Requirement - Your Disability
Must Last at Least 365 Days

  Note this duration requirement.  Your medical problem must prevent you from performing work, and your problem must be serious enough that it will last a year or longer, or result in death.

  The 365 day requirement does not mean that you must wait one year before you apply - you can and should apply if you think that there is a reasonable chance that you will be out of work for a year.  If it turns out that you can go back to work you can cancel your Social Security disability application.  Because SSDI and SSI cases take so long to be processed through the system, it makes sense to apply as soon as you realize that your medical or mental health condition may be a long term problem.

  There is no such thing as short term disability for Social Security purposes. There is also no partial disability.  Either you meet the definition or you do not.

Benefits Not Automatic - Your Must
Prove You Are Disabled

  As you might expect, you cannot simply walk into a Social Security office, announce that you are "disabled" and start collecting checks.  In the disability system, you, as the claimant, have to prove that you meet Social Security's definition of disability.

  The Social Security Administration also looks at your work history to determine what type of benefit you will receive.  The Disability program - also known as Title II Disability - is available to you if you have worked at least five out of the past ten years (the work requirements can be slightly different for younger workers).   If you do not have sufficient earnings paid into the system, you will not be eligible for Title II Disability, but you may be eligible for Title XVI Supplemental Security Income.

Several Levels of Appeals and Short Filing Deadlines

  Social Security's disability claim evaluation process has evolved into a complex and often confusing system that involves multiple levels of appeals and review. Your appeals must be filed within 60 days from the date of your denial.  The application process starts when you contact Social Security to file a claim.  It ends when a disability adjudicator or an administrative law j judge makes a decision in your case.

  This web site was created to help you better understand the disability adjudication process.  Learn how to apply for benefits, how to appeal a denial and find out what type of information you will need in your disability case.  Whether you choose to pursue your claim on your own, or whether you retain the services of an experienced lawyer, you need to inform yourself about the Social Security laws and procedures.

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