To determine if an applicant’s physical condition qualifies for benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA), which administers the government’s disability programs, uses a five-step review.
Individuals who continue to earn more each month on average than the income ceiling set by the government will generally not be considered disabled. That amount is currently $1,090 monthly.
For a claim to be approved, the applicant’s physical impairment must interfere with basic work-related activities.
Some conditions, such as blindness, Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), pancreatic cancer, and acute leukemia usually qualify for disability as soon as the diagnosis is confirmed. Dozens of other physical conditions – from heart, lung and back problems to skin and digestive disorders – may qualify, but not always.
The SSA must determine that the applicant’s medical condition is sufficiently severe to preclude the applicant from continuing on the job as before.
Despite having a physical limitation, can the applicant find other work?
Even applicants with medical conditions that meet all of the criteria set by SSA may still not be eligible to receive benefits. That’s because the government will also weigh factors such as how long the disability has lasted or is expected to last; whether the applicant worked long enough and recently enough under Social Security; the applicant’s residency status; the applicant’s current age, and of course, whether the applicant has successfully completed all the required forms and physical exams, and submitted the necessary documentation.
Because of the large number of rules governing disability payments and the possibility that deserving applicants will be rejected for failure to correctly navigate the system, many people who apply for disability benefits based on a physical condition retain an expert lawyer to advise them. An experienced disability attorney can make certain that all required paperwork is in order, that deadlines are met, and that applicants are fully apprised of their rights, especially if their initial application is declined.
The average monthly benefit of those who qualify for disability, based on the latest nationwide statistics available from the government, is $1,241 for men and $1,011 for women. (The gap reflects the historic wage differences between the genders.)
For many of the 10.2 million Americans who did apply successfully and currently receive disability benefits, the monthly payments represent a vital financial safety net.