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Severe Medical Impairments

Posted on in Social Security Disability

The Social Security Administration (SSA) does not pay short-term or partial disability benefits.  Under the Social Security Act, "disability" is defined as the inability to work.  To determine whether a claimant is capable of working, SSA employs a five step sequential evaluation process.  Step two of the process asks whether a claimant's medical condition is "severe."  If a claimant does not have a severe medical impairment, he or she will not be found disabled by the Administration.

What makes a medical condition severe?  A medical condition is severe if it significantly limits a claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. Basic work activities is relatively broad language, but SSA does give examples of what they mean, such as:

(1) Physical functions such as walking, standing, sitting, lifting, pushing, pulling, reaching, carrying, or handling;

(2) Capacities for seeing, hearing, and speaking;

(3) Understanding, carrying out, and remembering simple instructions;

(4) Use of judgment;

(5) Responding appropriately to supervision, co-workers and usual work situations; and

(6) Dealing with changes in a routine work setting.

The regulations are clear that if someone's medical condition(s) have no effect on their ability to do basic work functions they are not disabled and therefore are not entitled to Social Security disability benefits.  However, if the medical condition(s) have more than a minimal effect on the person's ability to perform basic work activities it should be considered as a severe impairment. Having a severe medical impairment will allow a claimant to move on to step three of the sequential evaluation process.  If a claimant cannot prove that he or she has a severe medical impairment it will likely result in a denial of disability benefits, whether the individual is applying for Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income.

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