Social Security Disability 101

In the United States, there are an estimated 49 million people with some form of disabling condition. For those that are unable to earn a living, congress has given the Social Security Administration the power to administer programs such as Social Security Disability (SSD) and Social Security Income (SSI).

What are the differences between entitlement to SSD or SSI?

On one hand, Social Security Disability requires that a person must have earned enough money and paid in enough Social Security to become “insured” and claim Social Security Disability. On the other hand, SSI does not require that a person ever have worked, but instead requires a showing of financial hardship. It is also possible that some people may qualify for both programs.

What is a disability according to the government?

Both Social Security Disability and Social Security Income take on the same definition of disability. Under 42 USC §§ 423 (d)(1)(A) and 1382c(a)(3)(A), disability is “the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to either result in death or last at least 12 months.”

The Social Security Administrations disability evaluation process

In determining whether a person is disabled, the Social Security Administration (SSA) uses a five step “Sequential Evaluation” process:

  1. Is the claimant currently engaged in substantial gainful activity?
    • If yes, the SSA will conclude that a person is not disabled.
    • If no, then go to question #2.
  2. Does the claimant have any severe impairment?
    • If no, the SSA will conclude that a person is not disabled.
    • If yes, then go to question #3.
  3. Does the claimant have any impairment which meets or equals those contained in the listing of impairments?
    • If yes, the SSA will conclude that a person is disabled.
    • If no, go to question #4
  4. Does the claimant have any impairment which prevents his or her past relevant work?
    • If no, the SSA will conclude that a person is not disabled.
    • If yes, then go to question #5.
  5. Does the claimant’s impairment prevent him from doing any and all other work?
    • If yes, the SSA will conclude that a person is disabled.
    • If no, then there is no disablement.

An application for benefits can be completed at any Social Security Office, through mail, via telephone (1-800-772-1213) or online. For more information on the Social Security Administration, visit www.socialsecurity.gov. Learn Your Rights 101.

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