What is Social Security Disability?

When most people hear Social Security, they think of retirement. They know they have to pay a certain part of their paycheck every week or every other week, but what they don't realize is that they are also paying a disability insurance premium, because Social Security has a disability insurance program. The purpose of this disability insurance program is to protect you if you can't work because of sickness or injury. So, if you become disabled according to Social Security's definition, then you could be eligible to collect disability benefits through the Social Security disability program as long as you have worked long enough paying into the system.

In order to be entitled to a disability benefit, someone would need to show to the Social Security administration some basic elements of their disability. In order to do this, the first thing you need to understand is Social Security's definition of disabled. Social Security says you're disabled if you can't engage in what they call “substantial gainful activity” and if the condition is either going to result in death or is likely to last at least 12 consecutive months. A person engaged in substantial gainful activity is defined by the Social Security Administration is “a person earning more than a certain monthly amount.” That amount is determined by the SSA. The bottom line on this is that if you are unable to work doing any kind of job at all, full-time, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, then you can qualify as disabled.

The Problem With Social Security Disability Hearings

The problem with this is that in a hearing, the typical question they will ask you is "can you take tickets at a movie theater?” Social Security does not consider is what you did before, or what income you generated from that, versus what you might make taking tickets in a movie theater. So you could be a high-end executive and make a quarter of a million dollars a year, but as long as you're able to take tickets at a movie theater, you wouldn't be eligible for this type of disability benefit.

What is social security disability?The question now is how does an attorney go about helping a claimant prove their burden? One of the keys in these cases is medical evidence, but it's not just the evidence to show what your diagnosis is. Your diagnosis is just the start, but it’s just a label. What Social Security wants to know is what is wrong with you, and it’s not just limited to one condition. Most people have a combination of conditions limiting them in their ability to work. The medical evidence needs to show what's wrong with you, but more importantly, it needs to show what the symptoms are and how it limits you. How does that restrict you from being the ticket taker at the movie theatre?

In a Social Security Disability claim, medical evidence is part of the evidence but it's not the only part of the evidence. Often times, Social Security disability attorneys will contact the claimant’s treating doctors they’ll send them a questionnaire asking for the doctor's opinions about specific limitations that are important in trying to prove somebody can't work. Sometimes Social Security will actually arrange for a client to be examined by a doctor in the community who has agreed to do examinations and reports for the Social Security administration.

Social Security disability claim hearings are really laser-focused. They may only last 30 minutes to an hour, so you have to get to the point very quickly. Most claimants are good at being able to describe what their limitations are and if they have a good attorney, they will have been prepared for the types questions that are asked. The judge needs to understand what the world is like from the client's point of view. They need to know what their day-to-day world is like, how limited they are, and what areas of personal care or household care they need help with. The claimant must paint a picture for the judge of what their life is like, and then show what their medical limitations are by presenting the medical evidence to. They need to present their case in the clearest way possible so that the judge can make a fair decision.

Ben Glass
Ben Glass is a nationally recognized Virginia injury, medical malpractice, and long-term disability attorney