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What Does “Disabled” Mean?

Osterhout Berger Daley > Practice Areas  > Social Security Disability  > Common Questions > What Does “Disabled” Mean?

People who have been denied Social Security Disability benefits are often bewildered. They have grown used to being told by friends and loved ones (and sometimes even their doctors or lawyers) that they “look too good” to be awarded Social Security Disability.

Yet, people who suffer with low back pain, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, or other chronic medical problems know that their disability is real. And now, in addition to everyone else, it appears that Social Security is also saying to you that you “look fine to them”. However, simply put, Social Security is not allowed to just look at you and decide whether you are disabled: They must consider your description of your symptoms and limitations and your doctors’ statements.

The questions we are asked by people who are not sure whether they are eligible for the Social Security standard of disability tend to fall into three categories: What are the types of benefits available through Social Security? What is the definition of disability? How do I prove that I am disabled?

For a free consultation to discuss your SSD or SSI claim with an experienced Pittsburgh Social Security Disability attorney, call the Osterhout Berger Daley, toll free at 1-866-438-8773.

What is the definition of disability?

Obviously, the Social Security Act, the Regulations, the voluminous policy statements made by Social Security, federal court cases, etc., are far too extensive to completely review in a short article, but it is possible to give some useful information about this question without referring a claimant to law books and the regulations.

If you are under 50 years of age, you must show that you cannot perform any type of work that exists in the national economy to qualify for benefits. When people describe their disability to us, they talk about it by stating they are unable to do the type of work that they used to do, cannot find work they would rather do, or that there are no jobs available where they live. While these are certainly reasonable things to think about during a job search, none of them have any relevance whatsoever to how a Social Security Disability case is decided for a person who is less than 50 years old. This is a difficult standard to meet, but not impossible. This type of case usually requires careful preparation and presentation to be successful, and we recommend that such a person work with an attorney on the case as soon as possible.

Social Security defines “work” as a full-time activity. Therefore, even if there is some type of work a person could do part-time or on a sporadic basis, that person can still claim that he or she is disabled. Also, Social Security Disability law acknowledges that employers expect their employees to show up for work on a regular basis, and to be productive while they are at work at least 90% of the time. So, for instance, if a person would be likely to miss work on a regular basis because of a provable medical condition, then this would present a strong claim for disability. Also, if a person is usually able to make it to work, but cannot stay focused for six to eight hour periods, or needs frequent rest breaks during the day in excess of the typical morning and afternoon break period, that person would also have a strong claim for disability.

For people over age 50, the Social Security Disability law acknowledges that after a lifetime of performing one type of work it would be difficult to “switch gears” and move into other types of work. The classic example is the person in his or her 50s who has always performed manual labor; in many cases, if it can be shown that person is incapable of performing past work, benefits are usually awarded. For people over 50 who have performed more skilled types of work, it is not possible to give general answers, and such a person should consult a qualified Social Security Disability attorney.

Virtually all medical conditions can be potentially disabling

Finally, we talk to many people who believe that only certain types of medical problems are taken seriously by Social Security. So, someone might ask us, for instance, “I have chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia: Can I get disability for that?” The truth is that, with some possible exceptions (medical conditions that wouldn’t disable anyone), there are really no medical problems that cannot be found potentially disabling. The issue is always whether the condition is severe, causes limitations on a person’s ability to perform activities of daily living and/or work activity, and whether the medical information (medical records and opinions of physicians) substantiate that the condition is disabling.

To schedule a free confidential consultation to discuss your Social Security Disability claim with an experienced attorney who has handled over 20,000 SSD claims and practices only in the area of Social Security Disability law, please call us at 412-794-8003 (locally in the Pittsburgh area) or toll free at 1-866-438-8773 (outside the Pittsburgh calling area). If you prefer, you can fill out our intake form, and an experienced lawyer will contact you to schedule an appointment.

Need an SSD Attorney? We’re Here to Help

Navigate the complex world of Social Security Disability with Osterhout Berger Daley. Our experienced attorneys are ready to assist you. For a complimentary, confidential consultation, call 412-794-8003 or 866-438-8773 , or use our contact form.