To qualify for Social Security Disability benefits or for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, you must be found to be disabled by Social Security’s medical criteria.  These criteria are the same for Disability and SSI, although they are different for adults and children.

Social Security benefits are only for those who are totally disabled for at least one year (or the condition is expected to result in death before that time).  There are no Social Security disability benefits for short- term disability or for partial disability.

If Social Security decides that you meet their non-medical criteria (enough qualifying quarters for Disability or sufficiently low income and resources for SSI), then it will use a five step process to determine if you medically qualify for benefits.

1)   Are you working?  If you are working in 2014 and your earnings average more than $1070 per month you generally cannot be considered disabled.

2)   Is your condition severe?  By this, Social Security means that your condition interferes with basic work-related activities.

3)   Is your condition found in the listings of disabling conditions?  Social Security maintains a list of medical conditions that are so severe, they automatically mean you are considered disabled.   If your condition is not on the list, Social Security has to decide if your condition is of equal severity to a medical condition on the list.

The Adult listings, arranged by body system, can be found here:

The Child Listings, arranged by body system, can be found here:

4)   Can you do the work you did previously?   If it is determined that your condition is of lesser severity than those in the listings, then Social Security must determine if your impairment(s) interferes with your ability to do the work you did previously.  If it does not, your claim will be denied.

5)   Can you do any other type of work?  For example, if in the past you had an active job, would you now be able to work at a sedentary job?  In this step, Social Security considers not only your medical conditions, but also your age, education, past work experience, and any transferable skills you may have.  If it is determined that you cannot adjust to other work, your claim will be approved.  If you can adjust to other work, your claim will be denied.

The key to successfully getting through these five steps and being awarded benefits is to have enough documentation (hospitalization records, doctors’ records, lab test results, x-ray results, etc.) to prove that your impairment(s) are disabling.  A Social Security Disability attorney can provide assistance by knowing what type of documents you need you need for your particular claim, and can provide assistance in obtaining them.  Many offer free initial consultations.