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SSD Info: Social Security definition of disabled is a different animal


When people file for Social Security Disability benefits, with or without attorney representation, they have the burden of proving that they meet the disabled definition. The criteria to be deemed disabled under the Social Security Act, which is necessary to prove one’s eligibility for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits or disability benefits under the Supplemental Security Income program, is often not what many people think.

Misconceptions of meaning of disabled

Some people incorrectly believe that if they cannot do their prior profession or cannot earn a similar income due to physical or mental limitations, then they meet the disabled definition. This is not the case if they are seeking disability under the Act. Some people aptly ask how the Social Security Administration expects them to support their lifestyles and its expenses now. Often, they have been able to provide for a certain lifestyle over the years before becoming ill or injured and they can now only do simple unskilled sedentary work in a low paying occupation. How will the SSA help them?

The answer is, simply, that the SSA has no expectations of how, nor any requirements in that regard. If they can do that other low paying job on a full-time basis, they are not SS disabled.

SSA does not discriminate due to prior economic status

One’s prior income or economic status has no bearing on whether the person is legally disabled under SSA rules. Nor does their inability to support themselves based on a new occupation that is not as lucrative as their old occupation have any relevance. The SSA does not discriminate based on prior wealth or income generating ability. It is quite an equalizer. Despite having an impairment that limits them somewhat, even significantly, and even if they cannot do their old work on a full-time basis anymore, that reality will not mean they are disabled under SSA rules. So, what level of disability will meet the definition?

Disabled under Social Security rules

The SSA definition of disabled that triggers the eligibility for benefits, is far more strict. To be more clear, the SSA provides the following:

A person must be unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity because of a medically-determinable physical or mental impairment. Furthermore, that impairment either has lasted or is expected to last at least 12 months, or it must be expected to result in death in the shorter term.

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