Am I disabled? Should I apply for Social Security benefits?

A lot of people ask me how Social Security decided if they are disabled.

I can’t do the work I have done for 35 years.  Am I disabled?

I stopped working to take care of a family member, but now I am sick.  Am I disabled?

I got hurt at work, then they fired me.  I keep applying for jobs, but there just isn’t much work around here.  Am I disabled?

The doctor tells me I will probably need serious surgery later on.  Am I disabled?

I will need to be on medication for the rest of my life.  Am I disabled?

Social Security focuses on ability to work to test for disability.

Under the Social Security system, in order to be disabled you have to have a physical or psychological impairment that is expected to keep you from being able to engage in a “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) – typically some type of full-time work, for 12 months or longer.  Or, simply put:  do you have a condition that keeps you from being able to work?

Social Security does not consider “hire-ability.”

An impairment which keeps you from being able to work is not the same as being unable to get hired for a job.

  • You may be applying for jobs but you do not get any calls.
  • There may be no jobs in your area.
  • Or, you may have a felony charge which keeps you from getting work.

While these are all examples of an inability to get a job, none of these, by themselves, show that you are physically or psychologically unable to to work.

I can’t do the work I have done for 35 years.  Am I disabled?

I stopped working to take care of a family member, but now I am sick.  Am I disabled?

I got hurt at work, then they fired me.  I keep applying for jobs, but there just isn’t much work around here.  Am I disabled?

The doctor tells me I will probably need serious surgery later on.  Am I disabled?

I will need to be on medication for the rest of my life.  Am I disabled?

Being unable to do prior work is usually not enough to prove disability.

What if you have condition that keeps you from doing the work you have done in the past?  Usually, that is not enough to prove disability.  There are some exceptions to this, but generally, if you can still do some other type of full time work (even minimum wage work), you are probably not disabled.

Needing medical care or even surgery in the future is typically not enough to prove disability.

What if your doctor has diagnosed you with a serious medical condition, or told you will need to be on medicine for the rest of your life, or told you that you will need major surgery later on?

In these circumstances, you have to look to the test for disability:  do you have a physical or psychological condition which keeps you from engaging in a substantial gainful activity (such as full time work) for 12 months or longer.

  • Does the condition keep you from being able to work? If the answer is, “no,” then the condition might not be enough make you disabled.
  • Does the medicine keep you from being able to work? You may respond that without the medication you would be disabled — the medication is the only thing that keeps you from being disabled.  unfortunately, this is the catch-22 of Social Security.  If you have a medical condition that is not disabling with treatment, you are probably not disabled, even though you require the health insurance that comes with Social Security to be able to afford the treatment.
  • Does the probability of future surgery keep you from being able to work? You may say, “no, but I will not be able to work after the surgery.”  That may be the case, but you also have to ask whether your period of recovery will be expected to be 12 months or longer.  While Social Security accepts that many surgeries are disabling for a time, the disability from the surgery has to be expected to last for 12 months in order to qualify for Social Security.

There are exceptions which go beyond the scope of this article.  Social Security has Listings of Impairments which discuss various medical and psychological conditions and these Listings do not discuss an inability to work.  However, this is because it is assumed that the level of severity required for any of these listing would automatically preclude any type of substantial gainful activity.

If you think you are disabled, get more information.

This is just a quick review of Social Security’s definition of disability.  There are exceptions and circumstances where these general guidelines would not apply.  Additionally, there are other requirements you must meet to qualify for Social Security benefits.

If you think you may be disabled, speak to Social Security and call a lawyer for a consultation.

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Disclaimer: This is NOT legal advice. This site provides general information about Social Security disability cases in Colorado. To discuss your particular circumstances, please contact a lawyer in your area. Please review the full disclaimer .

About Tomasz Stasiuk

Tomasz Stasiuk is a Colorado Springs Social Security disability lawyer and the founding attorney of the Stasiuk Firm - a law firm specializing in Social Security disability cases in Colorado. Follow Tomasz Stasiuk on Google and Twitter

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