Answering Your Question: "Do You Qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits?"

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Social Security disability is a benefit paid by the government to U.S. citizens who are deemed unable to work because of a disability. According to the Social Security Administration, over 10.6 million American adults received disability benefits in 2008. The Social Security Administration handles disability benefits and makes the determination about whether or not a person is qualified to receive the benefit.

How the Social Security Administration Defines Disability

The social security administration (SSA) is strict in its definition of a disabled individual. It is so strict that it does not matter to SSA if your primary care physician has deemed you as disabled. Here is how the SSA defines a disabled person:

  • Your medical condition must prevent you from performing any substantial work.
  • You must have had your medical condition for at least a year or your condition may result in your death.

If you do not meet both of these conditions, then you should not apply for social security disability.

How Disability is Determined

Besides using the SSA’s definition of disability to determine if you should apply for social security disability, you should also do a self evaluation based upon how SSA determines if you qualify for disability benefits. There are five steps that the SSA uses to determine if a person will receive disability benefits.

  • SSA takes into consideration if you worked during the year you applied for social security disability. If you worked in 2009 and made more than $980.00 a month, the SSA may deny you disability benefits. Starting in 2010 this monthly earning limit raises to $1,000.00.
  • For individuals who did not work during the year they applied for disability benefits, SSA determines if your medical condition is severe enough to interfere with basic work-related activities.
  • The SSA has a list of disabling diseases and conditions. They will look to see if your condition is on this list. In most cases if your condition is found on the list and matches all of the criteria listed under that condition, you may receive automatic approval.
  • If after step three the SSA still has not determined if you qualify for disability benefits they will evaluate if your condition prevents you from doing work you have done before. This does not only pertain to the work you did at your last job either. If you worked ten years ago as a file clerk and your condition does not interfere with your ability to perform those duties then you may be denied social security disability.
  • The final step SSA goes through in the determination process is to evaluate if you can perform the work duties of another type of job. Your education and previous work duties are taken into consideration during this step.

Should You Apply?

Review the definition that the SSA uses for disability. If your condition does not fit into that definition then you probably should not apply. Review the five steps the SSA uses to determine if a person is disabled. A good rule of thumb to go by for this is if your medical condition is not found the SSA list of disabling diseases and conditions then you may want to seriously reconsider applying for disability benefits. If after reviewing the definition and determination process the SSA uses you still are not sure if you qualify, contact your local SSA office. Your local office has additional information that may help you plus the SSA has work partnerships with companies to provide employment opportunities for people with disabilities.


Social Security Administration. (2009, April 01). Adult Disability Starter Kit Fact Sheet. Retrieved November 15, 2009, from

Social Security Administration. (2009, November 05). Listing of Impairments - Adult Listing. Retrieved November 15, 2009, from

Social Security Disability Administration. (n.d.). How Do We Decide if You Are Disabled? Retrieved November 15, 2009, from

Social Securty Administration. (2009). Annual Statistical Report on the Social Security Disability Insurance Program 2008. Retrieved November 15, 2009, from