How Does the Social Security Administration Define Disability?

Feb 19, 2021


You are injured and unable to work and are thinking about applying for Social Security Disability. The question is, will the Social Security Administration (SSA) agree with you? Just because you cannot work does not mean that you qualify to receive disability benefits from Social Security. Overall, there are three requirements before the Social Security Administration will define you as disabled.

Medically Determinable Impairment Required

First, you must have a Medically Determinable Impairment. That impairment can be mental or physical. Also, that impairment must be supported by medical evidence. This means the impairment must:

- be determined by a medical provider

- cause you pain or loss of ability, and

- be supported by laboratory findings

An example would be a spinal injury. Let’s say you complain of severe back pain that prevents you from being able to stand or sit for very long. Your doctor has an MRI done that shows the spinal injury and your doctor diagnoses you with having a spinal injury. This would be a medically determinable impairment.

Unable to do Substantial Gainful Activity

The next requirement is that your impairment must prevent you from being able to do Substantial Gainful Activity. This is the idea that your injury prevents you from being able to do any type of work that will bring in enough income to survive. The amount of money SSA believes is needed to survive is changed every year based on the cost of living. In 2020, that amount was $1,260 per month. If you are injured but still able to do some type of work and make more than $1,260 per month, then you do not meet the definition of disabled.

12-month Requirement

The last requirement is that your impairment must last for 12 months or longer. If you have had your impairment for at least 12 months when you apply for social security disability and there is medical evidence of it for at least 12 months, then this should be easy. On the other hand, if you apply earlier than 12 months from the start of the impairment, then there must be proof that the impairment will not improve much over time. For example, you may have a broken leg that requires you to stay in bed until it heals enough to be mobile again. If you doctor believes that amount of time to heal is less than 12 months, then you are not disabled under the Social Security Administration definition.

As you can see, qualifying for Social Security Disability is not as easy as it sounds. If you apply and are denied, it is helpful to talk to an attorney to figure out what went wrong and decide if you should appeal the decision.


At Pedersen Law Office, LLC we understand how confusing applying for Social Security Disability can be; that is why we offer free consults. We will discuss your application and disability and help you through the entire process. Our law office serves the communities of Appleton, Neenah, Menasha, Oshkosh, Green Bay and their surrounding areas.

Loading Conversation

Get in touch

Online Bill Payment

Now you can quickly and easily pay for your legal services online in the comfort of your own home.