What does it mean to be “disabled” when it comes to applying for SSD benefits?

If you have a condition that meets the Social Security Administration’s strict definition of a disability, then you may be eligible to receive benefits.

This makes proving that you are truly “disabled” a crucial part of your application.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) defines a disability as a “medically determinable” physical or mental impairment that prevents you from engaging in any “substantial gainful activity” and which:

  • Is expected to result in death, or
  • Has lasted or will last for a period of at least 12 continuous months.

When you apply for benefits, a North Carolina Disability Determination Services (DDS) team consisting of a claims examiner and a medical consultant will determine if you meet this definition. The DDS team will go through a five-step review process that looks at whether:

  • Your income (if any at all) falls at or below a “threshold” amount (this changes on an annual basis)
  • Your condition prevents you from working
  • Your condition is among those listed in the SSA’s “Blue Book,” or List of Impairments
  • You can return to your previous work
  • If you can’t return to your previous work, whether you can do any type of work.

Your doctor’s support could play a major role in the DDS team’s determination. It will be important that your doctor understands what your employment abilities were and why you can no longer do them.

The DDS team may also ask you to see a physician at a scheduled time. You must go, or else DDS will make the decision based on the information it has.

Keep in mind: There is no such thing as a “partial disability” when it comes to seeking SSD benefits. It is all or nothing: You either meet the SSA’s definition of “disabled” or you do not, depending on what conditions qualify for disability.

After the DDS team makes its decision, you will receive a notice letter informing you that your application has been approved or denied. If approved, you will be told the amount of benefits you will receive and the date they will start. If denied, you will be told why. You will have 60 days from the date of that denial to appeal the decision. (This same time limit will apply at every subsequent level of appeal as well.)

To learn more, please see our page on the Social Security disability claims process.