The definition of disability is not as clear-cut as you might think. While the medical community defines disability as having a physical or mental condition that limits your movement, senses, or activities, the Social Security Administration (SSA) takes a much narrower view. This means, you may not qualify for disability benefits even if your doctor considers you disabled. Social Security Disability Alperin Law

How Disability Is Defined by the SSA

To receive Social Security disability (SSD) benefits, you must meet the following criteria:

  • You have a physical or mental condition that prevents you from doing the same type of work you did before you become ill or injured.
  • Your condition prevents you from obtaining other types of paid employment.
  • Your condition has lasted at least 12 months, is expected to last at least 12 months, or is considered terminal.

Additionally, your age, education, and past work experience all factor into whether or not you receive SSD benefits. People who are over 50, have a high school diploma or less, and have only worked in low-skill jobs will have an easier time being approved for benefits than those who are younger and highly educated with transferable skills—even if the individuals suffer from the same medical condition.

Consider, for example, an accountant suffering from degenerative disc disease who may have back pain that makes it difficult to walk, bend, or lift. However, since his job is sedentary, this wouldn’t necessarily prevent him from continuing to work. In comparison, a factory worker with the same limitations on walking, bending, and lifting would likely not be able to continue his employment and be unlikely to find another job if he has only a high school diploma and has never done any other type of work.

People who are currently working part time or self-employed may find that it is more difficult to convince the SSA they meet the definition of being disabled—even those who choose this type of employment to attend school, care for their children, or have a flexible schedule for personal commitments. In some cases, people work part time or are self-employed because full-time work is not available. However, to qualify for SSD, you must be able to prove that this type of work is solely because your condition does not allow you to handle full-time work. If you are succeeding in your current work, there is the danger that the SSA will assume you could handle working a slightly easier position on a full-time basis.

If you are a veteran, please note that the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) uses different criteria to award VA disability benefits. Approval for SSD can support your VA disability claim, but your disability must be service-connected to qualify for VA benefits. Additionally, unless you are applying for Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU), your service-connected condition does not need to prevent you from working to receive compensation.

Types of Evidence Used to Prove Disability

Proving you meet the definition of disability set by the SSA is not an easy process. Some types of evidence you may need to provide include:

  • A report from your family doctor
  • Clinical exam results by specialists you’ve seen
  • The results of any diagnostic tests you’ve had
  • A list of treatments you’ve tried for your condition, along with a description of their effectiveness
  • A list of all medications you are currently taking
  • Your daily health log (if your condition requires monitoring of blood sugar levels, blood pressure, or other quantifiable data)
  • A Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) evaluation detailing your physical and/or mental limitations and how they affect your ability to continue working
  • School records (if they show a history of mental disability)
  • Employment records showing accommodations that were made on your behalf
  • Statements from previous supervisors or coworkers detailing how your condition affected your performance

Most SSD applications are initially denied, but many applicants are awarded benefits after going through the appeals process. A skilled attorney with experience handling SSD claims can help protect your right to benefits.

Have You Or A Loved One Been Denied Social Security Disability Benefits?

If you or a loved on has been denied Social Security Disability Benefits you need to speak with an experienced SSD attorney as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Virginia Beach office directly at 757.490.3500 to schedule your free consultation. We have offices throughout Virginia including Chesapeake, Newport News, Norfolk and Suffolk.


Scott Alperin
Experienced Estate Planning & Elder Law Attorney Serving Virginia Beach Area Clients Since 1994.