To qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), you must have a full disability. The Social Security Administration (SSA) does not cover short-term or partial disabilities. This fact might lead you to wonder, “What qualifies as a full disability under SSDI?”
First, we have to look at how the SSA defines “disability.” The definition is different from what other programs use.
What Does the SSA Consider a Full Disability?
Social Security only provides benefits for full disability. A full (or total) disability under Social Security means:
- Your condition prevents you from doing any work you used to do.
- Your condition also keeps you from adjusting to new types of work.
- Your disability has lasted (or is expected to last) for 12 months or more.
If your doctor expects your condition to result in death, the SSA can also consider it a full disability.
The SSA is strict when evaluating SSDI applications. The program assumes that workers and families can turn to other assistance for partial or short-term disability.
It is not enough to say that you’re fully disabled. You must provide proof of your condition and how it is disabling. When you apply for benefits, the SSA will look at your:
- Past work
- Medical history
The SSA will decide you have a full disability if you cannot perform substantial gainful activity (SGA). SGA is a certain amount of income per month. In 2020, the limit for SGA is $1,260 per month (or $2,110 per month for blind individuals).
If you earn more than SGA, the SSA will not consider you to have a full disability.
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What About Disabilities in Children?
Under Title XVI of Social Security laws, a child below age 18 is disabled if:
- They have a physical or mental impairment (or combination of impairments).
- Those impairments severely limit the child’s functions.
- The disability has lasted (or is expected to last) for at least 12 months.
If someone becomes disabled before age 22, they might receive child benefits through Social Security. Suppose the person’s parent starts getting SSDI or retirement benefits, or dies. In that case, the child receives benefits based on the parent’s earnings.
To receive child’s benefits, an adult child must:
- Be age 18 or older
- Have become disabled before age 22
- Be unmarried
- Meet the Social Security definition of full disability
If the adult child receives benefits from their parent’s earnings, they do not need work experience. They also cannot receive benefits if they are making above SGA.
How Does the SSA Determine a Full Disability?
The SSA uses a step-by-step method to evaluate someone for a disability. Here are some questions the SSA will ask when looking at your application.
Are You Working?
Social Security Disability lawyers often advise SSDI applicants against working while applying for benefits. If you are working when you apply, you cannot earn over SGA. You will almost certainly receive a denial.
You might still qualify if you are earning less than SGA ($1,260 per month in 2020). However, any source of income might seem suspicious to the person viewing your application.
If your application passes the first question, it will go to a Disability Determination Services (DDS) office. The DDS will use the following questions for your claim.
Do You Have a “Severe” Condition?
Under Social Security, a severe condition qualifies as a full disability. For at least a year, your condition must limit essential work-related functions like:
- Lifting things
- Remembering things
Is Your Disability on the SSA List of Medical Conditions?
The SSA has a Listing of Impairments that it will reference. Conditions on this list can be severe enough to keep someone from SGA.
If your condition is on the list, that’s a good sign for your application. If your condition is not on the list, the SSA will compare it to a similar condition on the list. If your disability is as critical as a listed condition, the SSA considers it severe.
Conditions That Qualify Faster
Some diseases qualify for faster approval. The SSA will automatically agree that they are full disabilities.
Some cases are eligible for Compassionate Allowances. As soon as the SSA confirms your diagnosis, you can get approved for benefits. Pancreatic cancer, acute leukemia, and Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) are examples.
The SSA also uses Quick Disability Determinations screening. It will identify conditions that are highly likely to qualify. The process can provide faster approval for very severe cases.
Can You Do Any Type of Work?
Next, the SSA will look to see if you can work at all with your disability. They will consider:
- Any past work you used to do
- Any new job you can do with your condition
- Skills that might apply to a new line of work
- Whether or not you adjust to another type of employment
If the answer is “no” to all of the above, the SSA will determine you have a full disability. You should get a letter of approval for SSDI benefits.
What Else Do You Need to Qualify for Full Disability Benefits?
Besides having a full disability, you must also have enough work credits. You must have paid into Social Security through your wages.
Social Security bases work credits on your yearly income. You can earn up to four credits per year. In 2020, every $1,410 in wages is one work credit — up to four per year. The amount of wages you need per credit changes each year.
Most adults need at least 40 work credits to qualify for SSDI. They must have earned 20 of those credits in the 10 years before their disability. However, younger workers will require fewer credits.
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Qualifying for SSDI can be challenging. You might not know where to start with your application. Or, you might be struggling to get approval for the benefits you deserve. Either way, John Foy & Associates can help.
We have over 20 years of experience working on Social Security cases. We can help you with every step of the process. To get a FREE, no-obligation consultation today, call (404) 400-4000, or contact us online.
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