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What Defines Disability Under Social Security

Applying for disability under social security for the purposes of obtaining benefits works differently than other short-term or partial disability programs. As such, it is important to understand how and why benefits are given out, so as to be able to understand your eligibility for said benefits.

First of all, benefits are only available to applicants with a disability that has already or is expected to last for an extended time, and these benefits are not available to partial disabilities.

In response, it is important to understand the definition of a disability under the guidelines of the Social Security Administration (SSA).

The SSA defines a disability as an inability “…to engage in any substantial gainful activity or SGA, because of a medically medically-determinable physical or mental impairment that is expected to result in death. If not in death, a disability that has lasted, or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months.”

Now, perhaps the most important, and the most difficult, part to understand, is defining substantial gainful activity (SGA). Breaking it into two parts, the activity must be ‘substantial’, and it must also be ‘gainful’. These two terms describe your activities and earnings in a workplace.

An activity is substantial if it requires significant physical or mental effort in order to complete a task/set of tasks. This does not mean it must be performed at full-time hours, in fact, activities performed on a part-time schedule can also be considered ‘substantial’.

Secondly, an activity is gainful if the activity is performed for pay or profit. It is also gainful if it is an activity generally performed for pay or profit, or intended for profit even if you do not make a profit. Examples, such as carpentry, where you generally make a profit, but sometimes give away items as gifts or make furniture for your own use, or writing a novel, which may never actually be published.

So, as a recap- the SSA is interested in determining your ability to participate in a substantial gainful activity for the foreseeable future, the extent and nature of your disability, and the expected duration of your disability.

When applying for benefits, some disabilities are auto-qualifiers, while others may require extensive hearings and medical documentation in order to obtain coverage.

To learn more about what disabilities qualify, how to apply, or how your SGA is determined, visit our website-

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