For Social Security Disability, disability is based on your inability to work. The Social Security Act defines disability as a "person's inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months". The Social Security Administration (SSA) will consider you disabled if: (1) You cannot do the work that you did before; (2) The SSA decides that you cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition(s); and (3) Your disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.


This definition of disability is strictly enforced. Social Security pays benefits only for total disability, so no benefits are payable for partial disability or for short-term disability. Social Security program rules assume that working families have access to other resources to provide support during periods of short-term disabilities, such as workers' compensation, private insurance, savings and investments.

Frequently asked questions

Do You Need a Lawyer?

The Social Security Disability claims process is complicated and time consuming. It is helpful to have an experienced Social Security Disability Lawyer on your side that is knowledgeable about the eligibility requirements, the Social Security system, and the stages of the claims and appeal processes. The following list provides a few examples of how a Social Security Disability Lawyer can help you:

  • Evaluate your case and answer any questions
  • File your initial claim
  • Gather evidence to strengthen your claim
  • Monitor and notify you of your case's progress
  • Handle all aspects of the Administrative Law Judge hearing
  • Prepare you for the questions that will come up at your hearing
  • Ask the Administrative Law Judge to subpoena any witnesses necessary to proving your claim
  • Argue your case at the hearing by giving an opening and closing statement, cross-examining the vocational expert and any other adverse witnesses, and asking the Administrative Law Judge to review and reassess any prior claims
  • Ensure the your social security benefits are calculated correctly
At Ash Law Firm, we take pride in representing disabled individuals who have suffered through a serious injury or mental or physical illness and are dedicated to helping them obtain a positive result.

How the SSA Determines if You are Eligible

To decide whether you are disabled, the SSA uses a step-by-step process involving five questions about your medical condition and ability to work. The questions are as follows:

  • Are you working
    • If you are working in 2010 and your earnings average more than $1000 a month, you generally cannot be considered disabled. If you are not working, your claim goes to Step 2.
  • Is your condition severe?
    • Your condition must interfere with basic work-related activities for your claim to be valid. If it does not, the SSA will find that you are not disabled. If your condition does interfere with basic work-related activities, go to Step 3.
  • Is your condition found in the list of disabling conditions?
    • For each of the major body systems, the SSA maintains a list of medical conditions that are so severe they automatically mean that you are disabled. If your condition is not on the list, we have to decide if it is of equal severity to a medical condition that is on the list. If it is, the SSA will find that you are disabled and your claim will be approved. If it is not, your claim advances to Step 4.
  • Can you do the work you did previously?
    • If your condition is severe but not at the same or equal level of severity as a medical condition on the list, then we must determine if it interferes with your ability to do the work you did previously. If it does not, your social security claim will be denied. If it does, we proceed to Step 5.
  • Can you do any other type of work?
    • If you cannot do the same kind of work you did in the past, the SSA will see if you are able to adjust to another type of work. Your medical condition(s), age, education, past work experience, and any transferable skills you may have are taken into account. If you cannot adjust to other work, your claim will be approved. If you can adjust to other work, your claim will be denied.

Disability Denial

Those who are too sick or injured to work are eligible to receive social security disability compensation subsidized by the federal government. Aside from providing a means to get through daily life and replace lost wages, these integral funds are designed to assist with expensive prescriptions that help you cope with your illness or disability. Unfortunately, sometimes payment for your disability will be denied. Being bogged down by disability is bad enough, but a lack of income only compounds matters. It is not uncommon for the people responsible for reviewing your application for disability payment to deem you an unqualified recipient, although you believe this is not the case. In 2005, the Social Security Administration (SSA) disbursed approximately $126 billion to over 17 million beneficiaries. If 17 million cases were approved by SSA, chances are yours could be too if you believe in it strongly enough.

Types of Disability

There are several types of disabilities that have allowed people to collect social security disability. While some of the following conditions may automatically qualify you for social security disability, most others fall into a gray area. A social security disability lawyer can assess your medical condition and work requirements and help you through the social security claims process. Mental Disorders:

  • Autism
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Depression
  • Schizophrenia
Bone, Joint & Tissue Disorders:
  • Degenerative Disc Disease
  • Disorders of the Spine
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD)
Neurological Disorders:
  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
  • Seizure Disorder
  • Stroke
Other Medical Conditions:
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
  • Lupus
  • Lyme Disease
  • Diabetes
  • Interstitial Cystitis
  • Chronic Pain
  • Mesothelioma
  • Vision Loss
  • Heart Disease
  • Paralysis
  • Breathing Disorders

How to Apply for Social Security Disability

You should apply for Social Security Disability benefits as soon as you become disabled. To apply for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits or SSI disability benefits, call the Social Security Office near you and tell them you need to file a claim. An appointment will be set up to conduct an interview in person, or over the phone, whichever is more convenient. The Claims Representative assigned to your case will provide answers to all of your questions and will handle the paperwork needed to send your claim to Disability Determination Services (DDS). This is where the medical decision on the case will be made. The Claims Representative will also determine the type of disability program you are potentially eligible to receive benefits from. Benefits can be drawn from either Social Security Disability (SSD), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or in some cases both. Determinations regarding which program you are eligible for are based on your work history, or lack of in the case of children. Applications can also be completed online at the SSA website.

Reasons SSA May Deny Your Case

Reasons SSA may deny you payment:

  • You are unable to provide ample medical proof.
  • Impairment does not warrant compensation due to its level of severity.
  • Your injury or illness is a direct result of substance abuse.
  • It is improbable that your disability will last longer than one year.
  • Your ability to perform at work is unaffected.
  • You can perform an alternative job to substitute for your previous occupation.
  • You do not adhere to the instructions pertaining to your medication.
  • You go back to work while the disability application is still being processed.
You should realize that when your application for disability payment is under review, your submission will be scrutinized and compared to every rule and regulation in order to identify a weakness in your claim. This seems unfair considering so many others with the same condition that you're suffering from were approved. If you end up being one of the unlucky few, SSA allows you to appeal their decision, but this appeals process can take up to a year or longer. If your application for Social Security Disability is denied, do not reapply. This is a common mistake made by applicants for disability benefits. Instead, you should file an appeal. In addition, it is advisable to seek the services of a qualified Social Security Disability Lawyer who can guide you through the disability appeals process. Represented cases often have a much higher chance of winning than those that are not represented. A qualified Social Security Disability attorney can also help you recover past due benefits.