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How the SSA determines if a person has a qualifying disability

On Behalf of | Nov 6, 2023 | Blog, Physical Disabilities

The Social Security Administration reports that people who received disability benefits are three times more likely to die than others their age who do not receive benefits. Mainly, this is because the SSA’s requirements for qualifying disabilities are so strict.

The SSA employs a methodical approach to assess whether an individual qualifies for disability benefits. This process involves several essential factors and steps, and understanding it can greatly assist applicants in navigating the complex application procedure.

Medical evidence

The foundation of any disability claim is medical evidence. The SSA requires concrete documentation that substantiates the existence of a condition that significantly hinders the ability to engage in substantial gainful activity. These documents include medical records, laboratory results and physician’s notes.


Another critical aspect is the duration of disability. The SSA only considers conditions a doctor expects to last at least 12 months or result in death. Short-term or temporary conditions do not meet the criteria for disability benefits.

Criteria for impairments

The SSA maintains a comprehensive list of impairments that identifies specific medical conditions and their associated criteria that automatically qualify as disabling. To be eligible for benefits, an applicant’s condition must either match or equal one of the listed impairments. If this does not apply, they must demonstrate that their condition is equally as limiting as those on the list.

Ability to work

When an applicant’s condition doesn’t align with the listed impairments, the SSA evaluates their Residual Functional Capacity. This assessment considers an individual’s physical and mental limitations to determine their ability to perform their previous work or any other work.

Substantial gainful activity

The SSA also assesses an applicant’s ability to engage in substantial gainful activity. If their income surpasses the SGA threshold, they may not qualify as disabled. However, if their income falls below this limit, the evaluation continues.

Throughout the entire process, patience is key, as the application and appeals process can be lengthy. Understanding these aspects can significantly enhance an individual’s chances of securing disability benefits.

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