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How the Social Security Administration Decides If You Are Disabled


Recent news has been filled with reports about Social Security, as the White House and some Republican lawmakers seek to cut funding and access to federal benefits programs. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) would be directly affected by such changes, which would make it even harder to secure and retain disability benefits once they are awarded. The monthly benefits paid to SSDI recipients will never make a person wealthy, but they do help disabled individuals achieve some level of financial stability that was lost when work was no longer possible. Some of the proposed changes from lawmakers to the SSDI program involve restructuring how disabilities are classified so that benefits for most recipients are only temporary. The crux of any SSDI application is whether the applicant qualifies as disabled under Social Security Administration (SSA) regulations, and this foundation will not change, even if Congress does make changes to the law. Under the current SSA rules, individuals can qualify as disabled for purposes of SSDI in two different ways. A discussion of how the SSA assesses whether a person is disabled will be explored below.

What Is a Disability under SSA Regulations?

The SSA has a very strict definition of disability that does not provide partial or temporary benefits for someone experiencing a short-term disability. Instead, the SSA requires all recipients be completely unable to perform any type of work, and this disability must be expected to last at least one year or lead to death. The SSA limits the definition of disability in this way because it is assumed the disabled have other financial resources to access, such as workers’ compensation, savings and investments.

Disability Under the Listing of Impairments

When the SSA evaluates an SSDI application, the examiners look for medical evidence that the applicant suffers from a disease or condition that severely impacts his/her ability to work. To make it easier to identify which diseases and conditions produce acute effects, the SSA has a list of conditions, the Listing of Impairments, that are automatically considered disabling. Thus, if a person has a diagnosis of a medical condition listed on the SSA’s directory of disabling impairments, and the diagnosis is supported by sufficient medical evidence, the applicant should be approved for benefits.

Disability According to Functional Limitations

However, if an applicant has a severe condition, although not at the level required under the Listing of Impairments, the SSA then turns to an analysis of whether the applicant can perform previous work. If not, then the SSA assesses whether the applicant can perform other types of work. Specifically, determining whether an applicant can work is largely based on the functional limitations the impairment creates. The SSA will look at an applicant’s work history for the past 15 years, and decide if the applicant can perform the work in the same manner as before the onset of the disability. If the answer is no, the SSA will then examine the applicant’s capacity to transition to other types of work, based on education, work experience and age. The SSA’s ultimate decision in many cases is greatly influenced by the information contained in the residual functioning capacity form. This form is filled out by the applicant’s treating physician, and contains the physician’s assessment of the applicant’s physical and mental limitations, including how severe they are and if improvement is possible over time with the correct treatment. Gathering the necessary medical evidence is crucial to getting an SSDI application approved, and disability attorney who specialize in SSDI claims are in the best position to get an applicant this result.

Get Help

Getting approval for SSDI benefits is rarely easy or quick, but a disability attorney can take the guesswork out of what you need to do to succeed and navigate the complicated SSDI application process. Farrell Disability Law understands how crucial SSDI benefits are to your financial stability and will work to get you the money you deserve. If you live in Jacksonville, Callahan, Fernandina Beach or the surrounding area, contact the office for a free consultation.


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