What is a Social Security "Disability?"

A "disability," as far as the receipt of social security benefits is concerned, is not defined the same as for other programs. Social security disability benefits are only paid for total disability; the complete inability to work is the benchmark. At its essence, a person is disabled under the Social Security Act if he is unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity due to a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that has lasted or is expected to last for twelve months or that results or is expected to result in death. A disability can result from either a physical or mental impairment, or a combination of impairments.

Whether an individual suffers from a medically determinable impairment must be shown with objective scientific evidence. It is not enough for the individual to claim such an impairment or for his physician to say that the individual is so impaired. Rather, there must be clinically observable signs of an ailment that show the severity of the ailment as well as laboratory findings supporting the claim of disability.