Factors used by the SSA to determine disability

When Tennessee residents suffer an unexpected disability due to illness or injury, they know that their lives are significantly affected and they know specifically how the disability interferes with the actions they carried out prior to experiencing the disability. Therefore, it may seem clear to them that they cannot work and should be eligible for social security disability benefits. However, a person’s own understanding of his or her disability is insufficient to prove eligibility for benefits. An applicant who understands how the SSA makes its determination has the best chance of receiving benefits and not getting his or her claim denied.

The first test used by the SSA to determine whether applicants meet the definition of “disabled” is whether or not the person is working. Any working person in 2014 earning more than $1,070 monthly will not qualify. However, not working is not enough on its own to qualify. After applicants establish that they are not working, they must provide information about the condition causing the disability.

In terms of assessing medical condition, the first question asked is whether the condition is severe. For a condition to be classified as severe, it must interfere with a person’s ability to carry out job-related activities. The next question asks whether the condition experienced by an applicant is noted in the established list of disabling conditions. If an applicant’s condition is either on the list or is determined to be equally severe as a condition included in the list, the inquiry stops and the person is determined to be disabled.

If the condition is not on the list or is not as severe as other conditions on the list, the SSA will next ask whether the applicant is able to do the work that he or she did prior to suffering the medical condition. A person who is able to continue performing the work they were performing prior to suffering the medical condition will have a claim for SSD benefits denied. If the disability does interfere with work, the SSA will continue to inquire into whether the applicant is able to do any other kind of work. The ability to perform or adjust to other types of work will likely mean that an applicant will not be approved for benefits. If, however, due to age, education, skills, and/or past work experience, a person cannot do other work, his or her claim will likely be approved.

Source: Social Security Administration, “Disability Planner: How We Decide If You Are Disabled,” last accessed Oct. 12, 2014