Definition of Disability for Benefit Purposes

To qualify for Social Security disability (SSD) benefits, applicants have to meet the Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) definition of disability, and the disability must be “total” (as the SSA does not pay benefits for partial or short-term disabilities).

Specifically, according to the SSA’s strict definition of disability,1 a person is disabled if (s)he:

  • Is unable to do the same type of work (s)he performed before the impairment
  • Cannot adjust to other or new work due to the impairment/condition
  • Has had (or will have) the impairment in question for at least one year
  • Has an impairment or condition that will result in death.

The SSA has developed an extensive list of the qualifying disabilities and impairments, which is simply referred to as the List of Impairments.2

Once the SSA has determined that a person does, in fact, meet its definition of disability, it will then usually continue its review process to figure out the amount of benefits to which that person is entitled.

Continuing Eligibility for Disability Benefits

After being approved for federal disability benefits, beneficiaries will usually continue to receive benefits as long as they are still considered to be disabled by the SSA. In fact, periodically, the SSA will review3 beneficiaries’ cases to evaluate whether they still qualify for benefits, with these reviews occurring:

  • Within 6 to 18 months after disability payments start for people whose impairments are “expected” to improve
  • No sooner than 3 years after payments start for those whose impairments will “possibly” improve
  • No sooner than 7 years after payments start for those whose impairments are “not expected” to improve

During these reviews, if a person’s condition is found to have improved significantly, the SSA can determine that benefits need to be reduced or, in some cases, need to be terminated altogether. However, these SSA determinations are not always accurate or appropriate, and this can lead to a wrongful termination of benefits.

Louisville Disability Lawyer at Murphy & Associates, PLC

Do you need help proving your disability to the SSA? Or has the SSA unfairly reduced or terminated your benefits? If so, it is time to contact a trusted Louisville disability lawyer at Murphy & Associates, PLC. Our team of experienced lawyers is dedicated to:

  • Helping our clients navigate the complexities of the Social Security Administration
  • Pursuing appeals following claim denials or unfair benefit terminations
  • Working tirelessly to help our clients obtain the full amount of disability benefits to which they are entitled


1: SSA
2: SSA’s List of Impairments
3: SSA reviews