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What Constitutes Legal Disability?

Disability Defined

The Social Security Administration will find a claimant to be legally disabled if he or she cannot perform “substantial gainful activity (SGA)”. This inability to do SGA must last at least one year. If the claimant is unable to do her past work and has attained a milestone age under the regulations, the rules may be eased somewhat.

A person who is working part time may still be considered legally disabled if her earnings are less than the amount considered to be “substantial” by the Adminstration. As of 2018, gross earnings of $1,180 or more per month are “substantial” and will ordinarily preclude a finding that the claimant is disabled.

To be considered disabled, a person must ordinarily establish that he or she cannot perform  

his past work and also must establish an inability to perform other types of employment. The Social Security rules are more lenient toward older workers with less education and limited job skills. Special rules apply in the case of a child's claim for Social Security Income (SSI).

Social Security Disability Programs

The Social Security system provides benefits for the disabled under two separate but related programs: Social Security Disability Insurance (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

1. Social Security Disability benefits (also called Disability Insurance Benefits or DIB) are for workers covered by the Social Security laws who have contributed adequate quarters of coverage and have worked recently enough to be "insured" for disability benefits.

2. Social Security Disability benefits may also be available for disabled widows or widowers, depending on their age and the time of the spouse's death or when the spouse’s youngest child attains majority age. A disabled adult child may also be eligible to receive Social Security Disability benefits on the Social Security account of his or her parent.

3. The amount of the Social Security Disability benefits depends upon the person's contributions to the Social Security program. DIB benefits can approach $2,700 per month or can be less than $200 per month, depending upon the worker's earnings.

4. If a person is eligible for Social Security Disability benefits, her dependent children may also be eligible for additional benefits. In some situations, the spouse may receive additional benefits.

5. Medicare is available for persons eligible for Social Security Disability benefits. There is a 24 month waiting period from the first month of benefit eligibility. Current exceptions to the waiting period apply in cases of ALS and end-stage kidney disease where dialysis is necessary.A small premium is deducted from the beneficiary's Social Security check.

6. SSI benefits may be available for disabled persons who are financially needy. The maximum SSI benefit in 2018 is $750 per month. Benefits may be reduced where there are other sources of income to the disabled person. Additionally, a Claimant must be resource eligible. This usually means that the applicant has less than $2,000.00 ($3,000.00 if married) in resources (e.g., savings, cash, assets which can be turned into cash, etc.). An exemption is made for the person's residence and, to an extent, an automobile.

7. Most SSI recipients are eligible for Medicaid through their home state.

Types of Social Security Disabilities

Virtually any medical impairment can constitute a Social Security disability if it is severe and prevents a person from the performance of substantial gainful work activity. Over the past 35 years, we have obtained Social Security Disability benefits for claimants who have suffered from the following impairments (note that the list is not fully inclusive of every type of case we have ever handled):

Rheumatoid arthritis


Orthopedic disorders involving the:

Lower back

Cervical spine



Shoulders, ankles and feet


Chronic fatigue syndrome

Carpal tunnel and other hand impairments

Disorders of the eyes and ears


Lung disease

Heart failure

Coronary artery disease



Circulatory problems


Side effects of medications and treatment


Liver disease


Peptic ulcer disease

Crohn's disease

Kidney disease






Cerebral Palsy


Peripheral neuropathy

Skin disorders

Neurological Diseases and disorders

Multiple sclerosis


Connective tissue disease





Bipolar disorder

Paranoid disorder

Psychotic disorder


Organic brain syndrome

Personality disorder

Somatoform disorder

Mental retardation