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What Does Disability Mean Under The Social Security Act?

Though the law has been historically based on common sense and logic, in the arena of Social Security law, disability is not easily defined. Common sense, in colloquial use, would define disabled as being deprived of capability or effectiveness. In general terms, a person is disabled if his or her physical disabilities are impaired.
HOWEVER, in Social Security law, the term "disability" is a term of art, that is, what a person normally thinks of disabled will not be applicable. The United States Congress has defined the term disability as an inability " to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months." 42. U.S.C Sections 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). This definition applies to the Social Security disability program (Title II of the Social Security Act) and the SSI disability program (Title 16 of the SSA).
The definition continues by stating:
"An individual shall be determined to be under a disability only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if applied for work. For purposes of the proceeding sentence (with respect to any individual), "work which exists in the national economy means work which exists in significant numbers either in the region where such individual lives or in several regions of the country."
42 U.S.C. Sections 423(d)(2)(A) and 1382c(a)(3)(B). Any questions? That definition is most certainly a mouthful and a potential cure for insomnia, however, the Code gives us more information. A "physical or mental impairment" is defined as "an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques." 42 U.S.C. Sections 423(d)(3) and 1382c(a)(3)(D).
Note: a person is not disabled if a drug addiction or alcoholism is a "contributing factor" (to be discussed in a later blog entry) that is material to the Commissioner's determination that the individual is disabled. 42 U.S.C. Sections 423(d)(2)(C) and 1382c(a)(3)(I). The Act, most importantly, leaves it to the Commissioner of the Social Security Agency to develop regulations relating to many of the questions that are unanswered or definitions that are not very well defined by the Act.
If you think that you have a disability that renders you unable to work and would like a free case evaluation then contact our experienced Dallas Social Security Disability Attorneys today. Our attorneys are well-versed in assisting clients in receiving the Social Security benefits that they need.