The Standard for Social Security Disability

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Person applying for Social Security disability benefits.

How the Administration Evaluates Conditions for Social Security Disability Benefits

By Andrew DeLaMare

Attorney, PLF

When an individual decides to file for Social Security disability benefits, it is important to understand what Social Security evaluates in determining whether the individual is disabled or not.  For many, the decision to file for disability benefits comes when the individual was no longer able to perform his or her past work due to his or her impairment(s).  For Social Security disability benefits, the inability to do your past jobs is not the only factor they will consider in determining if you meet the criteria of disability.  

Qualifying for Social Security Disability Benefits

Social Security defines disability as “the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.”  The phrase “the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity” means whether the individual can do any type of work on a full time basis—not just the individual’s past work.  

In reaching the decision as to whether the individual is disabled, Social Security is required to evaluate certain criteria regarding the severity of the individual’s impairment(s).  Social Security will evaluate your medical evidence in making a determination as to what the most you are able to do both physically and mentally even with your impairments. Specifically, Social Security will evaluate what your physical ability is to lift, sit, stand, walk, bend, kneel, crouch, crawl, reach, handle, finger, and feel in spite of your impairment(s).  From a mental standpoint, Social Security will determine what your ability is to understand, carry out, and remember simple instructions; to respond appropriately to supervision, coworkers, and usual work situations; and to deal with changes in a routine work setting in spite of your impairment(s).  If the administration determines your impairments—physical and/or mental—will prevent you from engaging in the above basic work demands of full-time competitive work, you will be found disabled and may qualify for Social Security disability benefits.  However, if they determine your combined impairments are not severe enough to prevent you from performing unskilled work that has simple, routine, repetitive job tasks at the sedentary, light, medium or heavy exertional level, then you will not be found disabled.  

It is important to understand that in order to be found disabled by the Social Security Administration, you must show, based on the information in your medical records, that you are unable to perform any type of work on a full-time competitive basis due to your impairments.  If you are considering filing for Social Security disability benefits, please contact an experienced disability attorney at Parmele Law Firm to assist you with your claim.