To qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and be approved for benefits by the Social Security Administration (SSA), you must:
- Be between 21 and full retirement age
- Have worked at least five of the last 10 years and paid FICA taxes during that time
- Be unable to work in any capacity because of a mental or physical condition that’s expected to last at least 12 months or result in death
- Be under the care of a healthcare professional who can confirm severity of medical condition(s)
The SSA uses a process called sequential evaluation to determine who qualifies for SSDI benefits. This process has five basic steps:
Determine if an individual is working (engaging in substantial gainful activity) according to the SSA definition. Earning more than $1,170 a month as an employee is enough to be disqualified from receiving Social Security disability benefits.
Conclude the disability must be severe enough to significantly limit one’s ability to perform basic work activities needed to do most jobs. For example:
- Walking, standing, sitting, lifting, pushing, pulling, reaching, carrying or handling
- Seeing, hearing and speaking
- Understanding/carrying out and remembering simple instructions
- Responding appropriately to supervision, co-workers and usual work situations
- Dealing with changes in a routine work setting
Ask if the disability meets or equals a medical listing.
Explore the ability of an individual to perform work done in the past despite a disability. If the SSA finds that a person can do past work, benefits are denied. If the person cannot, then the process proceeds to the fifth and final step.
Review age, education, work experience and physical/mental condition to determine what other work, if any, the person can perform. To determine disability, the SSA enlists medical-vocational rules, which vary according to age.
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