Who Qualifies for Disability?


In order to receive disability benefits, you need to have a qualifying disability. But what does that mean? And how do you know if you qualify? We’ll explain it all here.

What do we mean by disability?

To qualify for disability benefits, you must be unable to do basic work activities because of a physical or mental impairment. This means that your disability must have been diagnosed by a doctor and will exist for at least 12 months. In order to receive disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA), you must meet Social Security’s definition of total disability: You must be unable to perform any substantial gainful activity (work) due to your medical condition(s).

If you are unable to work because of a disability and you meet SSA criteria, then there is a good chance you may be eligible to pursue the process of applying for disability benefits.

Do you have a qualifying disability?

When people think of disabilities, they often think of someone with a physical disability. This is not always the case, however. Under the law, there are two types of disabilities: physical and mental.

Physical disabilities include things like blindness or deafness and can affect a person’s ability to work. Mental health conditions including major mental illness diagnoses and cognitive or intellectual deficiencies also may qualify for benefits.

With regard to eligible mental health conditions, a person must have symptoms that impair functioning in at least three-of-five areas: basic activities (such as bathing), getting along with others, maintaining concentration/attention span, interacting appropriately with other people, establishing effective relationships with others, and handling routine activities of daily living without assistance from others.

A disability must be diagnosed by a medical professional, and you will need a medical source statement. You can obtain this form from the SSA, or your attorney can draft one for you.

How do you qualify for disability benefits?

It’s important to remember that not everyone who is disabled is eligible for disability benefits. You must meet all the following requirements in order to qualify:

  1. The disability must be expected to last at least 12 months or result in death.
  2. You cannot work because of your medical condition(s).
  3. Your medical condition meets or equals one listed on Social Security’s Compassionate Allowance List; or
  4. Your medical condition prevents you from being able to do your previous job for which you are qualified, even with proper training, equipment, and/or medication; or
  5. If you’re age 50-59 and have worked for 10 years since age 21 (not necessarily consecutive), and have paid into Social Security at least 5 years (but not more than 40) prior to becoming disabled.

Depending on the type of benefit being sought and specific circumstances surrounding an individual case, there are generally three ways to apply: online, via postal mail, or in person at the nearest Social Security Administration office.

What are the different benefits?

There are two types of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): SSDI-I and SSDI-II. The first type is available to people who have worked in covered employment for at least 5 of the last 10 years. The second type is available to people with limited income and resources, no matter how much they have worked. Both benefit types share the same definition of disability.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is another way to apply for assistance with medical bills if you do not qualify for SSDI or other government assistance programs like Medicaid or Medicare. However, unlike those programs mentioned above, SSI has strict eligibility criteria that must be met before any payments will be made out by SSA.


If you have a qualifying disability, you may be able to secure Social Security disability benefits. You can apply for disability benefits online or by mailing an application form. If you need assistance processing your application, Roose & Ressler can partner with you to ensure the best possible chance your claim will be approved. Contact us today for a no obligation consultation, and let’s explore how we may be able to help you.

Access our free tool:

Guide to Preparing and Applying for
Social Security Disability

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