What is “Disability?”

The SSDI program and the SSI program are two federal government programs that issue cash benefits to people under retirement age who meet SSA’s definition of disability.  Most people are aware that the Social Security Administration is a part of the federal government and that it pays older, retired people monthly checks.  What you may not realize, however, is that the Social Security Administration  also issues monthly checks to disabled children and disabled adults less than 62 years of age.

How Social Security Defines the Word “Disability”

In order to be eligible for Social Security disability, you must be  “disabled.” For Social Security purposes, you are “disabled” if you have a  medical problem that prevents you from performing “substantial gainful activity.”  Substantial activity can be employment, volunteer work or even school.  In addition, your medical problem must be severe enough that it has lasted or will last at least a year.  Social Security disability does not pay for short term problems.

As a practical matter, I can tell you that Social Security disability is primarily about your capacity to work.  Stated another way, in order to  prove that you are disabled, you often need to prove that you cannot work even a  simple, unskilled job. For example, imagine yourself working as an packer, where  you sit at a table and pack items in a box; imagine yourself as a cashier at a  parking lot; imagine yourself as a nighttime security system monitor. Could you  perform one of these very simple, low stress, low exertion jobs 8 hours a day, 5  days a week?

You Must Prove that You are Disabled

As you might expect, you cannot simply walk into your local Social Security office, explain to the representative that you believe that you qualify for disability and walk out with a check.  Instead, you have to start the process by filing an application for disability and then prove your case by submitting medical records, work records, statements from former co-workers and family members.   Then you have to hope that the adjudicator assigned to your case reads all of the documentation in your file and agrees to approve your case.

Not surprisingly, your and many other deserving claims are not approved with the first application.  In fact, most claims are denied at least twice before you actually get an opportunity to appear in person before a judge.   This is where attorneys like me come in.  I help prepare and file your appeals and I make sure that your claims file is complete.  I also present your case to a Social Security judge by asking questions to you, and I cross examine the vocational or medical witnesses that the judge may call to testify in your case.