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Defining “disability” in an application for SSDI benefits

On Behalf of | Jun 10, 2024 | SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY - Social Security Disability

One of the most important governmental financial assistance programs is Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”). This program is administered by the Social Security Administration, the same agency that administers the payment of social security benefits.

For individuals who meet the eligibility requirements, the SSDI program provides a monthly payment intended to cover the beneficiary’s essential living needs.

Many people apply for SSDI benefits without stopping to consider whether they are in fact disabled. This post will explore the meaning of “disability” as used by the SSA in evaluating claims for SSDI benefits.

Basic definition of “disability”

The SSA has published pamphlets that contain definitions of the essential terms in the SSDI program. The initial definition is “disability.”

In order to meet the SSA definition of disability, the applicant must demonstrate an inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) because of a “medically determinable physical or mental disability” that is either expected to result in death or last for a continuous period of 12 months.

In other words, the disabling condition must be permanent.

What is “substantial gainful activity”?

The term “substantial gainful activity” adds another layer to the meaning of disability. Work activity is “substantial” if it involves doing significant physical or mental activity, or a combination of the two. Unfortunately, the phrase “significant physical or mental activity”  is not separately defined, and the two terms are somewhat repetitive.

“Gainful” work activity can include:

  • Work performed for pay or profit.
  • Work generally performed for pay or profit.
  • Work intended for profit, whether or not a profit is realized.
  • Work performed on a part-time basis.

SGA is not used to determine eligibility for persons who are blind.

Evaluating “activity”

The SSA uses a person’s monthly earnings to determine whether an activity is “substantial.” In 2024, the monthly limit on earnings was $1,550, and this amount is likely to be increased for subsequent years if the national economy continues to be inflationary.

Application for SSDI benefits

An application for SSDI benefits should be as accurate and as complete as possible. Any questions about how to complete the application can be directed either to an SSA employee or to a privately retained attorney.

Because most SSDI applications are initially denied, retaining or consulting an experienced SSDI attorney as early as possible in the application process may be very beneficial.