If you are applying for social security disability, you have to understand the concept of severe impairment under social security disability law.  Proving a “severe” mental or physical condition is the first step towards benefits.  Then you must prove that this severe condition limits your ability to work.

Medically Determinable Impairment

The very first component of establishing a severe impairment is showing that you have a medically determinable impairment.  This means that you have medical evidence of your mental or physical conditions.  When applying for social security disability, you want to have a diagnosis from a doctor.  For physical injuries, you can get copies of x-rays or MRI reports.  These help to prove your diagnosis.  Other tests like an EMG or a bone scan can help show how that diagnosis is affecting your body.  For instance, the EMG test can show that a herniated disc is affecting the nerves that run through your spine and down your legs.  This will corroborate your testimony about the numbness in your legs and how that affects your ability to stand or walk.

Severe Impairment Under Social Security Disability Law

 After establishing your medical condition(s), you have to prove that it causes a severe impairment under social security disability law.  The word “severe” was included in this concept on purpose.  Just because you have an impairment doesn’t mean it is severe.  The original congressional opinion of severity was impairment that was significant enough to justify not being able to work.  So, the basic test for severity today is assessing whether or not your inability to work is caused by your medical conditions.  Your inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity must be “by reason of” the impairment.  You cannot meet the severity requirement if you have the ability to perform basic work activities as required by most jobs.

In order to meet the requirement of a severe impairment under social security disability law, multiple impairments can be combined.  For instance, your neck problems, diabetes and depression may all combine to keep you from being able to work.  Any single one of those impairments would limit your work ability.  However, when they are all taken into account, you can’t work at all.  That is severe impairment as well.

It’s hard to prove that you are entitled to social security disability benefits.  Every word in the process matters.  Senators sat around arguing about whether or not to include the word “severe” in the eligibility criteria.  They argued even more about what that word means.  And now courts have interpreted it and added to its meaning.  You must be mindful of all of these things when applying for benefits.  Most importantly, if you are appealing a denial of social security disability benefits you cannot overlook the details.

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