In addition to the “insured” and/or resource rules referenced above, a person must also meet the SSA’s definition of “disabled” in order to qualify for Social Security disability benefits.
The SSA’s definition of “disabled” is an inability to sustain full-time competitive employment for 12 months or longer due because of a severe medical condition.
The disabling medical condition(s) do not need to be permanent; many people receive Social Security disability benefits for a period of time before returning to full-time work.
The five (5) steps to qualifying for Social Security disability are:
1).You must be earning less than “substantial gainful activity” through work activity. (In 2021, this amount is $1310.00.) This means that you cannot qualify for Social Security disability benefits if you are still working and earning more than the SGA limit (net) per month. That can pose a financial stress for employees who need to stop working soon due to medical conditions, but cannot afford to wait for their Social Security disability claim to be approved. There are, however, some steps you can take to maximize the odds of your Social Security disability claim being approved sooner rather than later.
The SSA will not even consider your medical conditions if you are earning more than SGA. If you are earning more than SGA, then you are automatically not disabled as far as they are concerned.
2). You must have at least one “severe medical impairment.” This essentially means that you have at least one medical condition that causes you so many problems that you cannot work.
3). If you meet or “equal” a listed impairment, then you automatically qualify. The “listed impairments,” or “listings,” are detailed rules about certain medical conditions. There are separate listings for adults and children. If there is enough of a certain type of medical evidence to prove that you qualify under a listing, then your claim should be granted right away. If you do not meet or equal a listing, or it’s unclear, then we go on to the next step.
4). You must be unable to perform your “past relevant work” because of your severe medical impairments. The SSA will determine what your “residual functional capacity” (or “RFC”) is based upon your medical evidence and other information. The RFC is one of the most important parts of a disability claim. If the SSA decides that you can do more than what you feel you can do, then that may be a basis for denial. This is where you can help your claim by talking to your medical providers about what you can/cannot do.
Once the SSA determines your RFC, they will then look at your work history (from the 15 years before you became disabled) to see if you can still do any of those jobs. If you cannot, then we go on to the next step.
5). You must be unable to perform any full time work because of your severe medical impairments.
PLEASE NOTE: You cannot qualify for Social Security disability benefits if you can do any full time job (no matter what the job is or how little it pays). The SSA does not care how much you were making before you became disabled. If you can still work full time, then you won’t qualify.