How does the SSA define "disability?"

Social Security has a very strict definition of “disability.” To be considered disabled in accordance with the guidelines set forth by the Social Security Administration (SSA), you must meet the following criteria:

  • You cannot perform your previous occupation.
  • You cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition(s).
  • Your medical condition(s) must last or be expected to last for at least one year and/or to result in death.

So how do you Know if you Have a "Disabling Condition?"

1. Not performing your previous occupation--if you can no longer go to work, or need to take so many breaks that you cannot perform your duties at work, your disability could be severe enough to qualify.

2. You cannot adjust to other work--if your skill set cannot be applied to a different, easier job, you could be approved for disability benefits.

3. Your medical condition is expected to last for at least one year--if your condition will improve quickly, you will not qualify for Social Security.

What is the Social Security Administration (SSA)?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) is an independent agency of the U.S. federal government. It administers Social Security benefits, which is a social insurance program that includes disability, survivors, and retirement benefits. The SSA has more than 60,000 employees and an annual budget of $1.06 trillion as of 2018.

The SSA was established in 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It had operated as an arm under the Department of Health and Human Services but has operated as an independent agency since 1994. It is the key organization that oversees and runs the Social Security program throughout the country. The SSA issues Social Security numbers, Social Security benefits, and manages the trust fund and finances for the organization. A financial report is issued annually.

Social Security is a vital part of retirement planning for Americans. As of 2019, there were 64 million Americans, including disabled workers, retired workers, and survivors receiving benefits from the SSA. Those benefits exceeded more than $1 trillion that year alone. Social Security benefits are funded by payroll taxes of the self-employed, employers, and employees.

To get benefits started, an application must be completed. You can go to the SSA website, which is, or you can make a toll-free call to 1-800-772-1213 and speak with a representative or schedule an appointment at one of the 1,300 field offices spread out across the country. You can find the nearest SSA office to apply.

Either way, you will need to make sure you have all your medical records and supporting evidence in order for your claim so Disability Determination Services can accurately review your case and make an informed decision on your claim.

Any claim forms must be filled out accurately and in detail, so the SSA can confirm the benefits that you are seeking and make sure that you qualify for those specific funds. Your work history comes into play and determines your eligibility for retirement benefits or for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). To qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), specific financial criteria must be met, including income and resource requirements.

Be sure to have all the supporting documentation that your claim needs, including financial records, such as proof of income and resources. By having everything in order for an attorney to review, you are much more likely to get your claim on track for approval much more quickly. Documentation is a necessity for a successful disability claim through the SSA.

What Kinds Of Disabilities Get Approved For Social Security Disability Benefits?

If you are unable to work because of a medical condition, you may qualify for disability benefits from the SSA. There are many different medical problems that may qualify for monthly disability benefits. The SSA uses a medical guide, which is called the Blue Book, to determine eligibility.

The Blue Book has sections for different body systems and each section has listings for disabling conditions that may apply to that specific system. There are criteria for each listing that must be met for a claimant to qualify for disability benefits.

There are many conditions that qualify for disability benefits, as an example, those include cancer, heart problems, spinal disorders, autoimmune disease, hearing and vision loss, organ transplants, traumatic brain injuries, and mental disorders. You will need to provide hard medical evidence to support your claim and to show that you meet the criteria of the listing and should have your claim approved.

The claim form must be completed in detail, and you will need to provide a comprehensive list of your medical providers, along with their contact details and dates of treatment service. When possible, include copies of your medical records, including exam notes, surgical notes, test results, imaging records, and anything else that specifically pertains to your medical condition as well as its restrictions and limitations.

As an example, if you have breast cancer that is recurrent after treatment, or that is unresectable or inoperable, you will need to provide supporting medical documentation that shows that is the case and then you will be approved for disability benefits through the Compassionate Allowances (CAL) program. Several conditions are on the CAL list, and if you have one of those conditions and provide supporting evidence, your claim will be processed and approved much more quickly.

Of course, different conditions have different criteria that must be met. If you have asthma, or some other breathing disorder, you will need to show that you have undergone treatment, provide breathing test results, and show how the severity of your condition has affected your ability to work and function. Details and supporting evidence are essential to any disability claim, so don’t delay getting everything in order and ready for review.

Your goal is to get your claim approved so you can access the disability benefits that you need to cover your living expenses and medical bills every month. The more prepared you are for your claim, the more likely you are to have a successful claim and be approved for benefits.

Getting Help With Your Claim

If you're not sure if your disabling condition is severe enough to qualify for Social Security, you can always discuss your claim with a Social Security attorney or advocate. An attorney or advocate can discuss your claim in-depth with you, and quickly determine whether or not you should pursue a Social Security disability claim.

Attorneys are never paid unless you win, so there is no harm in speaking with one today. You can start the process by filling out a free evaluation form that will help you find someone to discuss your case in greater depth and, hopefully, represent you.

If you are unable to work because of a medical condition, you will want to file a claim for disability benefits. The claims process can take several months, and if it reaches the administrative hearing level, it could take longer than a year to schedule a hearing and to appear before a judge. The decision may not be rendered for a few weeks after the hearing.

Most disability claims are denied on the initial review, and an appeal must be filed. The likelihood of a claim being approved increases greatly when an attorney is representing the disability claimant. An attorney is familiar with the claims process and will be able to determine if there is enough information provided to get the claim approved. If you are unable to work because of a medical condition, complete the Free Case Evaluation Form on this page to share the details of your claim with an attorney who handles such cases in your area.

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