Social Security Disability Insurance
Written by: Bruce L. Weider | 9.06.2023

What Is Considered A Severe Impairment Under Social Security Disability?

People who suffer serious injuries that prevent them from returning to work may qualify for Social Security disability benefits for support. However, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has strict requirements for receiving these benefits. To qualify for coverage, an applicant must prove that their injuries meet the SSA definition of “severe impairment.” While some applicants are able to receive the benefits they need without headaches, many disability claims are denied based on a lack of evidence of severe impairment. If you have questions about applying for Social Security disability benefits, dedicated Michigan Social Security disability lawyer Bruce C. Weider is here to help. Call our office today at (734) 485-0535 to learn more in a free consultation.

How Does the SSA Define Severe Impairment?

Social Security disability insurance benefits serve as a financial support mechanism for individuals incapacitated by an injury or illness that prevents them from maintaining gainful employment. A central prerequisite for eligibility is the substantiation of a severe impairment, which the Social Security Administration defines as a condition that markedly restricts an individual's physical or mental capabilities, thereby rendering the individual incapable of executing fundamental occupational tasks. A severe impairment may originate from a solitary condition, but it may also be the cumulative effect of multiple impairments that are individually less severe but taken together ultimate leave the applicant unfit for work.

The critical consideration centers around the applicant's ability to "sustain" their employment. Employers typically anticipate that their employees will work an entire shift, five days a week, and fifty weeks per year. An employee who can only perform their role part-time, needs extended breaks following standard work activities to recover or manage discomfort, or lacks the concentration to follow instructions or remember their tasks is unlikely to be desirable to an employer. These are the scenarios––instances of severe impairments––that Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is designed to cover.

Common Disability Impairments

The Social Security Administration uses a Listing of Impairments when evaluating SSDI applications. The Listing of Impairments provides detailed criteria for each primary bodily system, enumerating conditions that are deemed serious enough to prevent an individual from engaging in any profitable activity. A majority of the conditions outlined are either permanent or anticipated to lead to death, with the listing outlining a specific duration for each.

For all remaining conditions, the evidence must substantiate that the condition has persisted, or is predicted to persist, for an uninterrupted duration of at least 12 months. The parameters outlined in the Listing of Impairments serve as a guide in assessing claims for both disability benefits under the Social Security disability insurance program and payment requests under the SSI program.

  • Musculoskeletal Disorders: This category includes various disorders of the musculoskeletal system, such as fractures, spine disorders, soft tissue injuries, severe joint injuries, and amputations.
  • Special Senses and Speech: Loss of speech and hearing or visual impairments like loss of central visual acuity, and field of vision contractions.
  • Respiratory Disorders: Asthma, chronic respiratory disorders, cystic fibrosis, chronic pulmonary hypertension, respiratory failure, and lung transplants are common examples.
  • Cardiovascular System: Examples include chronic heart failure, peripheral arterial disease, heart transplants, congenital heart disease, recurrent arrhythmias, and ischemic heart disease.
  • Digestive System: Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), chronic liver disease, short bowel syndrome (SBS), and liver transplants.
  • Genitourinary Disorders: Chronic kidney disease and related complications, such as nephrotic syndrome.
  • Hematological Disorders: Sickle cell disease and bone marrow failure disorders
  • Skin Disorders: Severe burns, dermatitis, bullous disease, chronic skin infections, ichthyosis, and hidradenitis suppurativa.
  • Endocrine Disorders: Diabetes and disorders of the pituitary gland, adrenal gland, thyroid gland, and parathyroid gland.
  • Congenital Disorders: This category covers all congenital disorders that affect multiple systems of the body, including non-mosaic Down syndrome.
  • Neurological Disorders: Brain tumors, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord disorders, and Parkinson’s disease.
  • Mental Disorders: Severe anxiety and depression, neurocognitive disorders, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, and autism spectrum disorder.
  • Cancer: Almost all forms of cancer are included in this category, except for certain HIV-related cancers.
  • Immune System Disorders: Immune deficiency disorders, lupus, inflammatory arthritis, and Sjögren’s syndrome.

If you have questions about whether your injury or disorder qualifies as a severe impairment, you can learn more by contacting Michigan Social Security disability lawyer Bruce L. Weider.

How To Prove a Severe Impairment

When applying for Social Security Disability benefits, an applicant needs to substantiate the existence of a significant impairment, which prevents them from engaging in substantial, gainful employment. Without a severe impairment, the SSA will not grant Social Security Disability benefits approval.

There are numerous methodologies for an applicant to establish the existence of a significant impairment that would qualify them for Social Security Disability benefits. Adequate objective medical evidence demonstrating one or more impairments resulting in an incapacity to work is a necessary condition for qualification. This could include treatment records, X-rays, CAT scans, vision and hearing tests, and other documentation. While individual impairments may not singularly qualify an applicant for Social Security Disability benefits, the combined effect of these conditions, if recognized as a severe impairment, could result in eligibility for benefits.

What Should I Do if My Disability Claim Was Denied?

When the SSA denies a disability claim, the applicant has several options for disputing the denial. The applicant may ask the SSA to reconsider their denial and review their file. If the application is denied again after requesting a reconsideration, the applicant may file an appeal, which is followed by a hearing before an administrative law judge. In some cases, submitting additional medical evidence may be enough to reverse the denial. An experienced Social Security disability lawyer can advise the applicant on how to proceed.

Learn More From a Michigan Social Security Disability Lawyer

If you have questions about applying for Social Security disability, an experienced Michigan Social Security disability lawyer can guide you through the process. In addition, Bruce is available to help applicants appeal denied applications if the SSA has listed failure to show severe impairment in the denial. To learn more about filing a disability claim, or to get help appealing a denied claim, contact Bruce L. Weider, PC today at (734) 485-0535.

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