To consolidate and clarify the policies and criteria it uses to determine disability status in young adults, the SSA has released an official ruling, known a SSR 11-2p. This document contains answers to questions about how the SSA determines if a young adult, ages 18-25, qualifies for SSDI or SSI and how they will continue to be evaluated once they are receiving benefits. The following is a detail of what the ruling covers regarding young adults and disability.
The same basic process for determining Social Security Disability status is used for young adults as well as adults. Young adults are considered to be able to carry out the same types of work activities as older adults, so they are held to the same standards when they are evaluated for disability benefits.
As in other cases, a young adult must prove that they are physically or mentally disabled according to the criteria contained in the SSA's List of Impairments. Medical documentation obtained from acceptable healthcare professionals must clearly indicate an impairment that is severe enough to qualify as a disability.
In addition, the SSA takes into consideration any documentation and information available from non-medical sources like social workers, therapists, vocational coaches, family members, etc. The SSA looks at how the young adult has performed in school and job training programs, as well as work. Although these sources alone don’t qualify a young adult for SSDI, they are still used by the SSA when determining disability, so it is a good idea for applicants to include them.
As is also the same with older adult cases, young adults must have proof that they are incapable of earning a living (performing "substantial gainful activity"). This means that their impairment(s) have been proven severe enough to disable them, and they are consequently unable to support themselves sufficiently. A young adult must prove that they are incapable of carrying out previous work or of acquiring the resources they need to succeed in a different type of work.
The Social Security Administration takes into account all aspects of a young adults life when deciding their eligibility for benefits, including their social support and financial security, other help they have received or are receiving, any educational abilities, and job task abilities.
Some exceptions to these basic guidelines are young adults who are in the military or receiving pay for participation in government-supported programs when they become disabled. Even if they remain in active duty, this alone is not sufficient proof that they are capable of performing work, and does not automatically disqualify them for disability benefits.
Lastly, young adults who are participating in a Ticket to Work or other IEPs (Individualized Education Program) still qualify for SSDI benefits while they are enrolled in the programs. This is because they are taking the approved steps toward independence. If they leave the programs before finishing them, however, they will lose their benefits.
The new ruling by the SSA combines all the information on their policies relevant to the disability evaluation of young adults to clarify expectations and make the disability application and determination process more consistent for everyone.