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Understanding the definition of "disability"

The federal government administers a program that provides financial benefits to persons who are deemed to be permanently and totally disabled. A person is eligible for benefits if he or she has earned sufficient work credits and is totally and permanently disabled. "Disability" can seem to be a vague term, but the regulations that govern the administration of Social Security Disability benefits have added a sufficient degree of specificity. In order to understand the complete meaning of disability, a section by section review of the relevant regulations is necessary.

Disability is a medically determinable condition or injury that deprives a person of the ability to engage in substantial gainful activity. The injury or illness that causes the disabling condition must either be expected to result in death or to be continuous for a period of at least 12 months. Substantial gainful activity is defined by a maximum monthly income. For 2019 the monthly maximum is $1,220. This limit is usually adjusted upward by the Social Security Administration on an annual basis. In 2018, the limit was $1,180. In 2020, the limit will be $1,260.

A medically determinable physical or mental impairment is an impairment that is caused by an anatomical, physiological or psychological abnormality that can be demonstrated by medically acceptable clinical or laboratory diagnostic techniques. Most impairments can be proved empirically by visual or chemical techniques. Mental impairments can be more difficult to establish because these kinds of impairment cannot be detected by laboratory or clinical means.

The prognosis part of the disability definition depends upon the written opinion of a qualified care giver stating that the illness is likely to last at least 12 months or to result in the patient's death.

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