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How the Social Security Administration Decides If You’re Disabled

A permanent or temporary disability can affect you or your loved one at any stage of their life.

Disability usually means losing your job and relying on others to carry out your daily activities. Fortunately, the Social Security Administration runs a Social Security disability benefits program for people who suffer from a disability, and are unable to earn wages. However, qualifying for these benefits is easier said than done.

According to a recent report, only about four in ten (42%) of the people surveyed were ultimately approved for benefits. You need to pass more than a few stringent rules and tests to qualify for these benefits.

Let’s learn about the security disability process in more detail.

  1. SSA’s Definition of Disability

The SSA will consider you as a disabled person if you satisfy the following conditions:

  • You can’t do the work you are qualified to do or have been doing before the disability and you cannot do any other job available nationwide; and
  • Your medical condition (disability) has lasted or is expected to last more than a year or is expected to cause your death; and
  • Your disability falls under one of the medical conditions mentioned in SSA’s “Listing of Impairments” or is medically comparable to one of the listed conditions.

The SSA provides disability benefits through the following two programs:

  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

SSDI and SSI are different. While SSDI essentially protects workers in case they become disabled, SSI is designed to help the aged, blind, and disabled people who earn little or no income. Unlike SSDI, SSI is not based on your work credits and it is funded by general tax revenues, not Social Security taxes.

In this post, we will talk only about SSDI.

  1. Understanding the Role of Work Credits

Work Credits are nothing but points required to qualify for SSDI benefits. You need to have done the minimum amount of covered work to be eligible for SSDI benefits. Based on your total yearly wages or self-employment income, the amount of income required to earn a single credit change every year.

In 2019, you must earn $1,360 in covered earnings to get one Social Security or Medicare work credit and $5,440 to get the maximum four credits for the year. Usually, you need 40 credits to qualify for SSDI benefits. You must have earned 20 of those credits in the last 10 years ending with the year you become disabled.

However, SSA may take special conditions such as younger age into consideration. For example, you need at least six work credits in the three years before your disability, if you are under the age of 24. In other words, the rule may apply differently on a case by case basis.

  1. The Process of Qualifying for SSDI

If you meet the minimum work credits criteria, the SSA will consider your application for further processing. It is hard to determine the exact time for the process as no two cases are the same.

Step 1: The SSA Verifies If You Are Working

First, the SSA will verify if you are currently working. If yes, you won’t qualify for SSDI benefits. To get the benefits, you must be unable to earn the minimum amount called Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA). In 2019, the monthly SGA amount for 2019 is $1220 for non-blind individuals and $2040 for blind individuals. The SSA will forward your application to Disability Determination Services (DDS) if you satisfy this condition.

Step 2: The DDS Determines the Severity of Your Medical Condition

The primary condition of getting disability benefits is that your condition must be severe enough to stop you from working. In short, you must be unable to perform basic activities such as lifting, standing, walking, sitting, and remembering for at least 12 months. Your condition should be irrecoverable or likely to result in death. If not, you will be disqualified.

Step 3: The SSA Will Refer to Its Blue Book 

The SSA maintains a list of medical conditions, also called the Blue Book. It comprises different medical conditions that qualify for the disability benefits and the necessary test results for comparison. The SSA will refer your condition to this list. If it fits the bill, your application will be approved. If not, it will undergo further scrutiny.

Step 4: The SSA Determines If You Can Do Your Old Work 

Even if you don’t meet one of the conditions listed in the Blue Book, the SSA will take a look at your work history to determine your eligibility. It will verify if you can still do the same job that you were qualified to do. If you can’t, your application will enter the final stage.

Step 5: The SSA Determines If You Can Do a New Job

In the final step, the SSA will determine if you can engage in any other type of work than what you have done in the past. Your medical condition, age, and transferable skills are taken into account when making this decision. If you still can’t work, your claim will be processed. If you can work, it will be denied.

  1. Work with Experts

Considering the complexity of the process, you should consult legal experts from the start instead of calling your social security disability lawyers in Illinois or Dallas after your application gets rejected. An experienced lawyer can help you every step of the way and also stand up for you in case your claim gets disqualified.

They can also help you gather necessary documents and prepare a foolproof application. If you are doing it on your own, make sure to learn as much about the SSA’s criteria for deciding who’s eligible for benefits as you can. Use your common sense when filling out the application form.

Parting Words

Applying for disability benefits will provide you with the income necessary for your survival. However, the process is complicated and time-consuming, and results in rejections many times. Hopefully, this short explanation will help you understand the various facets of SSA’s DDSI process. Apply for your benefits as soon as possible to ensure better lives for you and your loved ones. Good luck!

Author information: Steve Hanagan is an experienced personal injury attorney from Mount Vernon, IL. He has more than 30 years of experience in representing injury victims and their family members in cases of personal injury and workers’ compensation. He spent his entire career in gaining the knowledge and skills to represent victims and help them to get the full value of their claim.

Bob Kraft

I am a Dallas, Texas lawyer who has had the privilege of helping thousands of clients since 1971 in the areas of Personal Injury law and Social Security Disability.

About This Blog

The title of this blog reflects my attitude toward those government agencies and insurance companies that routinely mistreat injured or disabled people. As a Dallas, Texas lawyer, I've spent more than 45 years trying to help those poor folk, and I have been frustrated daily by the actions of the people on the other side of their claims. (Sorry if I offended you...)

If you find this type of information interesting or helpful, please visit my law firm's main website at You will find many more articles and links. Thank you for your time.

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