Social Security’s Definition of Disability

August 1, 2019 • By

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Last Updated: July 16, 2021

" "This month marks the 29th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990. Disability affects millions of Americans. It can inhibit peoples’ quality of life and their ability to earn a living. Social Security is here to help you and your family, but there are strict criteria for meeting the definition of disability. The definition of disability under Social Security is also different than it is for other programs. We do not pay benefits for partial or short-term disability.

Social Security has a strict definition of disability. Social Security program rules assume that working families have access to other resources to provide support during periods of short-term disabilities, including workers’ compensation, insurance, savings, and investments.

Social Security is also required by law to review the current medical condition of people receiving disability benefits to make sure they continue to have a qualifying disability. Generally, if someone’s health hasn’t improved, or if their disability still keeps them from working, they will continue to receive benefits.

Social Security is a support system for people who cannot work because of a disability. You can learn more about Social Security’s disability program on our website and also by accessing our starter kits and checklists.

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About the Author

Mike Korbey, Deputy Commissioner for Communications

Mike Korbey, Deputy Commissioner for Communications


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  3. Shonda W.

    Yes I applied for my daughter who has a learning disability and a behavior disorder before the crisis they never sent me a letter for when my app date was but they sent a letter saying since I didn’t make the app my case was close and I can having a hearing

    • V.V.

      Hi Shonda, thanks for using our blog. For your security, we do not have access to private information in this venue and are unable to determine your next steps. You can call us at 1-800-772-1213 for assistance or you can contact your local Social Security office. Please look for the general inquiry telephone number at the Social Security Office Locator. The number may appear under Show Additional Office Information. Please be aware that our call wait times are longer than normal. We hope this information helps.

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  6. Patricia F.

    Is there a reevaluation on people on disability? I feel that this should have a medical or what ever that person qualified to obtain the right to receive disability.
    How do you report that someone is not qualified to be drawing social security? If a person reports this do they have any reason to fear this action????

    • V.V.

      Hi Patricia, thanks for your question. The law requires Social Security to conduct disability reviews periodically to see if individuals receiving disability benefits are still disabled. How often we review cases depends on the individual’s medical condition. Also, even though the Social Security Act sets out a very strict definition of disability, we have work provisions that can encourage people on disability to return to the workforce and fulfill their desire to be productive. We hope this helps!

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  8. Jeffrey S.

    Hello, I am a 100% Total and Permanent VA disabled and applied for SSA disability in April 2017!
    To date I have not received a decision.
    My claim was LOST for over 2 years in Newport News, Va and I completed my appeal hearing on March 12th 2020 and still have no answer.
    How much longer do I have to wait for a decision and I am owed back pay from April 2017, when will I receive my compensation?
    I feel like OVER 5 years is enough time to complete one claim.
    Thank you.

    • gretchen k.

      When I applied for SSD, I had been told to get a Lawyer!! Well, I did and have never been sorry since. Took 2 years, a hearing in which I was refused, and then a nine page deposition, which got me my disability. Do not give up!! Make Govt. Accountable!!

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