The Social Security Administration (SSA) has strict rules when it comes to determining if an applicant may be considered disabled. Once you have an established medical condition, SSA will judge your eligibility for disability benefits using two methods: by judging the severity of your condition, and determining if you meet their listed medical requirements for your condition to be found disabling.

Determining Severity of a Disabling Condition

The presence of a medical condition will not be enough; you must meet both the duration and disabling requirements to be granted benefits. To be considered severe, your disability must:

  • Take the form of a medically determinable impairment (or a combination of impairments) with physical or mental effects
  • Be expected to last at least one year (twelve months), or result in death
  • Significantly interfere with your ability to perform work activities

Meeting or Equaling a Medical Listing

The SSA has compiled a list of medical conditions that could potentially qualify an applicant as disabled. For each condition, there are specific limitations and symptoms that an applicant must exhibit in order to be eligible for benefits. You may be approved if your disability:

  • Matches a listing. If your condition matches the medical criteria on a SSA listing and you have met the duration requirement, your benefits should be approved.
  • Equals a listing. If your disability is not on SSA’s list of disabling conditions, the person reviewing your case can determine if there is a listed condition of equal severity that closely resembles your ailment. This is called equaling a medical listing.

After the SSA has determined the severity of your condition, it will have to determine how limited you are by the effects of your disability. This is known as assessing your residual functional capacity (RFC), or the amount of work you are able to do despite your condition. Your RFC is an important factor in your disability case, as many applicants are assigned an RFC that is much higher than their actual abilities. Click the link on this page to learn more about the disability decision process in our free guide, 5 Deadly Mistakes That Can Destroy Your Social Security Disability Case, or contact us to tell us about your situation in detail.


Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska
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