About 16% of working-age Americans – 52 million people – have a disability, which makes them far more likely to face economic hardship. Although some are able to work, they’ll have greater difficulties getting a job than those without disabilities.
At the same time, many of those with serious and long-term disabilities have minimal or no capacity to work, making them particularly susceptible to financial problems.
For them, Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income, key elements of our country’s social security system, offer valuable support.
The modest but indispensable financial assistance they get from Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security allows them to live independently, get medical care, keep a roof over their heads and pay for basic expenses such as food and utilities.
However, navigating the system is notoriously difficult, and the bar set for eligibility is set quite high. This guide will, hopefully, answer some of your questions and make it easier.
Which Medical Conditions Qualify for Disability Benefits?
The SSA (Social Security Administration) has a list of medical impairments known as the “blue book,” which, as long as certain requirements are met, automatically qualify you for SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) or SSI (Supplemental Security Income).
If a person has a medical condition from their list, they are usually considered disabled and eligible to receive SSA benefits.
The conditions listed as of 2020 include:
- Musculoskeletal conditions – back injuries, back problems, dysfunctions of bones and joints
- Impairments that affect the senses or speech – vision or hearing loss
- Cardiovascular issues – chronic heart failure, coronary artery disease
- Respiratory conditions – cystic fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma
- Digestive tract conditions – inflammatory bowel disease, short bowel syndrome, chronic liver disease
- Hematological disorders – sickle cell disease, bone marrow failure, myelofibrosis myelodysplastic syndromes, aplastic anemia
- Genitourinary disorders – chronic kidney disease, kidney transplant, nephrotic syndrome
- Disorders that affect the immune system – human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), inflammatory arthritis, systemic sclerosis
- Endocrine disorders – disorders that affect the pituitary gland, thyroid gland, parathyroid gland, adrenal gland, pancreatic gland
- Dermatological problems – extensive skin lesions, dermatitis, chronic infections, genetic photosensitivity disorders
- Neurological disorders – epilepsy, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, Huntington’s disease
- Psychiatric conditions – autism spectrum disorder, neurocognitive disorders, schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorders
This is not a complete list. To read the complete Listing of Impairments and detailed descriptions of requirements for each disorder, you can visit the SSA official website.
Even if you don’t find your medical condition mentioned in the Listing of Impairments, you might still be eligible for SSDI and SSI benefits as long as you meet specific requirements.
First of all, your condition has to constitute a medically determinable impairment. Secondly, your condition has to negatively impact your residual functional capacity (RFC).
Your RFC will be determined by the most demanding activity you can still do, and a disability claims examiner will assess your exertional level.
Your RFC depends on whether you perform heavy work or sedentary work and will consider how much weight you can lift and carry, your ability to bend down, climb, use your hands, the capacity to cope with environmental stressors and restrictions, as well as depression and anxiety.
The disability claims examiner will look into your medical history and reports, so you will need to provide medical evidence such as:
- Clinical evaluation from one or several physicians
- Treatment reports
- Blood work panels MRI/CAT scan/ X-rays
- Mental health records
The medical evidence you provide must be recent and cover the period since you became disabled to present day.
Furthermore, it needs to show that your condition prevents you from completing your standard job demands.
For example, migraine headaches are not listed in the blue book, but if you can show medical evidence that they’re so severe that they make it impossible to work full time, the SSA may still grant you disability benefits.
Other impairments that don’t appear in the SSA Listing of impairments, but that still might make you eligible for benefits include degenerative disc disease, chronic pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
As we mentioned, the process can be quite confusing and challenging. If you have any questions about disability claims or are denied benefits, the best course of action is to explore your state’s legal options.
For instance, you can search for a disability attorney of CA and make an appointment. You are entitled to these resources, and an experienced attorney can help you protect your rights.
How Do I Apply for Disability Benefits?
Applying for these benefits requires much more than simply filling out the disability application.
The most important step is gathering the medical records that will convince the SSA to approve your claim. If your condition appears in the blue book, a diagnosis might be enough.
That’s the case for conditions that are automatically considered severe impairments. For others, you will need to see if you meet the requirements, which are often quite intricate.
You can talk to your doctor and ask them to perform the necessary tests, which you will include in your application. You can also wait for the SSA to pay for a medical examination, but this will make the process take longer.
After you get the results from your medical tests, you can check if they match the requirements. It doesn’t have to be an exact match since the SSA can consider aspects of your condition equivalent to the listed criteria. This process is called “equaling a disability listing.”
The SSA will assess how your condition affects your ability to work, perform routine activities, and decide whether you can safely perform any sort of job.
There are multiple ways you can apply for disability benefits:
- You can go on the SSA official website and check if you meet the requirements for an online application. They also list the documents you’ll need to include in your application.
- Call the listed numbers to make an appointment with your local Social Security office.
- You can also go to the local Social Security office without an appointment.
Before you apply, gather the names and addresses of all the clinics and doctors you’ve been to in the past five years.
If you haven’t seen a doctor recently, you should go and get the necessary medical records such as your diagnosis, test results, treatment plans, and their evaluation of how your condition affects your long-term prospects for work.