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What Conditions Qualify for Disability Benefits?

Living with a disability can present challenges for some, and for many individuals, learning whether you qualify for disability benefits is an empowering step toward gaining financial support and getting access to necessary resources. The world of disability claims is full of confusing jargon and red tape, so we’ve decided to clear up some of the confusion—and in the process, to clear the road to benefits that can enrich and expand experiences for those living with a disability. 

If you need assistance with a social security disability insurance claim or a supplemental security income claim, contact our disability lawyers.

Picture of money and a social security card for the article about conditions that qualify for disability benefits in North Carolina.

What Is Considered a Disability?

Disability benefits, often simply referred to as “disability,” refer to financial assistance and support programs designed to provide income and resources to individuals who are unable to work or perform substantial gainful activity due to a qualifying disability. These benefits aim to help individuals cope with the financial challenges that might arise.

Qualifying for disability benefits typically involves meeting specific criteria set by government agencies, such as the Social Security Administration (SSA) in the United States. The SSA has a comprehensive listing of impairments, commonly known as the "Blue Book," which outlines medical conditions that automatically qualify an individual for disability benefits.

Here's the link to the SSA Blue Book Part A which includes adult listings; and a link to Part B which includes childhood disabilities.

Types of Disability Benefits Programs

There are various types of disability benefits programs, each with its own eligibility criteria and regulations. The type you are applying for will impact whether or not you qualify for disability benefits. 

1. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

A federal program providing financial support to individuals with disabilities who have a work history and have contributed to the Social Security system through payroll taxes.

2. Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Another federal program offering financial assistance to individuals with disabilities who have limited income and resources, regardless of their work history.

3. Workers' Compensation

State-run programs that provide benefits to employees who suffer work-related injuries or develop occupational diseases.

4. Veterans Disability Benefits

Programs administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide compensation to veterans with service-connected disabilities.

5. Private Disability Insurance

Policies offered by private insurers or employers to provide income replacement in the event of a disability.

6. State Disability Insurance (SDI)

State-run programs that offer temporary disability benefits to eligible individuals who are unable to work due to a non-work-related injury or illness.

7. Long-Term Disability Insurance (LTDI)

Private insurance policies that provide financial support for individuals facing long-term disabilities.

The specific benefits and eligibility criteria vary for each program, and anyone seeking disability benefits usually has to navigate the complexities of the application process—which can be time and labor-intensive. 

Common Types of Disabilities that Qualify for Disability Benefits 

To make it a bit easier to understand exactly who can qualify for disability benefits, let’s break down the most common - and some more specific examples. 

1. Musculoskeletal Disorders

Musculoskeletal disorders encompass a range of conditions affecting the muscles, bones, joints, ligaments, and tendons. Severe impairments such as arthritis, degenerative disc disease, and spinal disorders may qualify individuals for disability benefits if they significantly limit mobility and daily functioning.

A. Degenerative Disc Disease

A person with severe degenerative disc disease, experiencing chronic back pain and limitations in spinal movement, may qualify for disability benefits.

B. Osteoarthritis

An individual diagnosed with advanced osteoarthritis affecting weight-bearing joints like the hips or knees, leading to significant mobility issues, may be eligible.

2. Neurological Disorders

Conditions affecting the nervous system can result in physical and cognitive impairments that might make it difficult to work. Disorders like epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson's disease may automatically qualify individuals for disability benefits, depending on the severity of their symptoms meets specific criteria. 

A. Advanced Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

An individual diagnosed with advanced ALS, experiencing severe muscle weakness and impaired motor functions, may qualify for disability benefits.

B. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) 

A traumatic brain injury might result in significant cognitive impairments, affecting memory, concentration, and decision-making—which may count towards disability benefits. 

3. Cardiovascular Conditions

Heart and circulatory system disorders, including chronic heart failure and certain congenital heart conditions, may qualify individuals for disability benefits. The severity of the cardiovascular impairment and its impact on daily activities are crucial factors in determining eligibility.

A. Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) with Complications

A person with severe coronary artery disease leading to complications such as recurrent heart attacks and chronic heart failure may not be able to work, which may qualify for disability benefits. 

B. Congenital Heart Defects

Complex congenital heart defects can cause significant limitations in cardiovascular function and daily activities may be eligible for disability benefits.

4. Respiratory Disorders

Disorders affecting lung function and breathing capacity, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and severe asthma, may qualify individuals for disability benefits if the conditions are advanced and significantly limit the ability to perform work-related tasks.

A. Severe Asthma

While mild asthma is not likely to significantly impair someone, those with severe asthma that is unresponsive to treatment and results in frequent, life-threatening attacks may make work difficult.

B. Pulmonary Fibrosis

An individual diagnosed with advanced pulmonary fibrosis, leading to severe breathing difficulties and limitations in physical activities, may qualify for disability benefits.

5. Mental Health Disorders

As conversations around mental health have become more mainstream, recognition of mental health conditions as qualifying disabilities has significantly increased. Severe cases of disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder may automatically qualify individuals for disability benefits, provided they meet the specified criteria.

A. Schizophrenia with Impairments

An individual diagnosed with severe schizophrenia, experiencing hallucinations and impaired cognitive functions, is likely to qualify for disability benefits. 

B. Major Depressive Disorder with Treatment-Resistant Symptoms

Major depressive disorder that is resistant to treatment can lead to severe and persistent symptoms impacting daily functioning.

6. Immune System Disorders

Conditions affecting the immune system, such as HIV/AIDS and lupus, may qualify individuals for disability benefits if the impairment is advanced and results in significant functional limitations.

A. Rheumatoid Arthritis with Organ Involvement

An individual with rheumatoid arthritis that has progressed to affect major organs, causing significant impairments and limitations, may qualify for disability benefits.

B. HIV/AIDS with Opportunistic Infections

A person diagnosed with advanced HIV/AIDS accompanied by severe opportunistic infections can qualify for benefits to help make up for lost wages.

7. Vision and Hearing Loss

Severe vision or hearing loss that cannot be corrected with aids may qualify individuals for disability benefits. Blindness, deafness, or a combination of both, may meet the criteria for automatic qualification.

A. Severe Macular Degeneration

A person with severe macular degeneration resulting in central vision loss and inability to perform tasks requiring detailed vision may qualify for disability benefits.

B. Profound Deafness

Someone with profound deafness, unable to communicate effectively even with hearing aids, can apply and qualify for disability benefits. 

8. Cancer

Certain types of cancer, especially those in advanced stages or recurrent cases, may automatically qualify individuals for disability benefits. The severity of the cancer and its impact on daily functioning are considered in the evaluation process.

9. Chronic Pain Disorders

Chronic pain conditions, such as fibromyalgia or chronic regional pain syndrome (CRPS), may qualify for disability benefits if the pain is severe and limits the ability to perform substantial gainful activity.

A. Fibromyalgia with Severe Pain

A person diagnosed with fibromyalgia experiencing widespread and severe pain, fatigue, and cognitive impairments may qualify for disability benefits.

B. Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) affecting Limbs

An individual with CRPS affecting multiple limbs, resulting in constant pain and limitations in movement, may be eligible for disability benefits.

10. Autoimmune Disorders

Conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), and Crohn's disease, which are autoimmune disorders, may qualify individuals for disability benefits if they result in significant impairments.

A. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) with Renal Involvement

A person with SLE affecting the kidneys and leading to significant impairments may qualify for disability benefits.

B. Crohn's Disease with Complications

An individual with Crohn's disease experiencing severe complications such as bowel obstructions and malnutrition, leading to substantial functional limitations, may be eligible for disability benefits.

Types of Disability Benefits 

Navigating the complex terrain of who can qualify for disability benefits—and knowing exactly what kind of benefits will work best for you—can be tricky. It’s important to get a good idea of each of your options before applying.  

1. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

Social Security Disability Insurance is a federal program administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to provide financial assistance to those dealing with disabilities that might keep them from working. Unlike Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which is based on financial need, SSDI is primarily tied to an individual's work history—in other words, their contributions to the Social Security system.

A. Eligibility Criteria

To qualify for SSDI benefits, individuals must meet specific criteria outlined by the SSA. The core requirements include:

  • Qualifying Disability: The applicant must have a disability recognized by the SSA, significantly limiting their ability to perform work-related tasks.
  • Work Credits: Accumulation of sufficient work credits through employment history, reflecting contributions to the Social Security system.

B. Key Features of SSDI

There are a few things that make SSDI unique in the landscape of disability benefits. 

  • Monthly Cash Benefits: The heart of SSDI lies in its provision of monthly cash benefits, offering financial support to eligible individuals. The amount is determined based on the individual's work history and earnings, acknowledging the unique circumstances of each applicant.
  • Medicare Eligibility: After a waiting period of 24 months, SSDI recipients become eligible for Medicare coverage. This ensures access to essential medical services, addressing the healthcare needs of those grappling with disabilities.

C. Application Process

Navigating the SSDI application process involves several steps, including the submission of a detailed application, medical documentation, and a thorough assessment of eligibility by the SSA. .

2. Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Supplemental Security Income is a federal assistance program alsop overseen by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Unlike Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), SSI is geared towards individuals with limited financial means who are elderly, blind, or disabled—and has nothing to do with work history. 

A. Eligibility Criteria

To qualify for SSI benefits, individuals must meet specific criteria outlined by the SSA. Key requirements include:

  • Age, Blindness, or Disability: Applicants must be 65 years or older, blind, or face a disability that impedes their ability to engage in substantial gainful activity.
  • Limited Financial Resources: SSI is means-tested, and applicants must have limited income and resources to qualify.

B. Key Features of SSI

So what does SSI entail? Let’s take a closer look: 

  • Monthly Financial Assistance: At the core of SSI is its provision of monthly cash benefits, offering financial support to eligible individuals. The amount is determined based on financial need and varies depending on the recipient's circumstances.
  • Medicaid Eligibility: SSI recipients automatically become eligible for Medicaid, ensuring access to essential healthcare services and coverage.

C. Application Process

The process of applying for SSI is similar to that of applying for SSDI. You’ll need to submit detailed financial information, medical documentation, and go through an assessment of eligibility by the SSA. 

3. Workers' Compensation

Workers' Compensation is a crucial safety net for many employees, providing essential support to those who sustain injuries on the job. This state-mandated insurance program is designed to ensure that workers receive prompt and fair compensation for injuries sustained during the course of their employment, while simultaneously shielding employers from potential lawsuits related to workplace injuries.

A. Eligibility Criteria

The eligibility criteria for Workers' Compensation vary by state, but generally include the following:

  • Employment Status: Injured individuals must be employees covered by Workers' Compensation laws.
  • Work-Related Injury or Illness: The injury or illness must be directly related to the individual's job duties or work environment.

B. Key Features of Workers' Compensation

Workers compensation can be a lifesaver in the event that you can’t work, with features like: 

  • Medical Benefits: Workers' Compensation covers the cost of medical treatment for injuries sustained at work. This can include hospital stays, surgeries, medications, and rehabilitative services necessary for recovery.
  • Income Replacement: In the event of a work-related injury that results in temporary disability, Workers' Compensation provides partial wage replacement, ensuring that injured workers can meet their financial obligations while recovering.
  • Permanent Disability Benefits: For injuries that result in a permanent loss of function or impairment, Workers' Compensation offers permanent disability benefits to compensate for the long-term impact on the individual's earning capacity.

C. Application Process

Initiating a Workers' Compensation claim involves notifying the employer of the injury, seeking prompt medical attention, and completing the necessary paperwork. Employers typically have designated procedures to facilitate the claims process.

4. Veterans Disability Benefits

Administered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), veterans disability benefits aim to provide financial and medical support to veterans who suffer from service-connected disabilities. These disabilities can result from injuries, diseases, or aggravations of pre-existing conditions during military service.

A. Eligibility Criteria

To qualify for Veterans Disability Benefits, veterans must meet certain criteria, including:

  • Active Military Service: Veterans must have served on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty for training.
  • Service-Connected Disability: The disability must be connected to the veteran's military service, either as a direct result or an aggravation of a pre-existing condition.
  • Disability Rating: The VA assigns disability ratings based on the severity of the service-connected disability.

B. Key Features of Veterans Disability Benefits

Here’s what’s you can expect from veteran’s disability benefits:

  • Compensation Payments: Veterans with service-connected disabilities receive compensation payments based on the severity of their conditions. The disability rating determines the amount of monthly compensation.
  • Medical Care: Veterans are entitled to free or low-cost medical care for their service-connected disabilities through the VA healthcare system.
  • Vocational Rehabilitation: For veterans facing challenges in returning to the workforce due to disabilities, the VA offers vocational rehabilitation programs to enhance employability.

C. Application Process

Initiating a claim for Veterans Disability Benefits involves submitting a formal application to the VA, along with supporting medical evidence of the service-connected disability. The VA then evaluates the claim to determine the disability rating and eligibility for benefits.

5. Private Disability Insurance

Private Disability Insurance is a voluntary insurance product purchased by individuals to safeguard their financial well-being in the event of a disabling injury or illness. Unlike government-sponsored disability programs, such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), private disability insurance is typically offered by employers or purchased independently.

A. Key Features of Private Disability Insurance

While the eligibility criteria and features vary from plan to plan, here are some of the most common features of private disability insurance: 

  • Income Replacement:The core function of private disability insurance is to provide a portion of the individual's income in the event of a disability that prevents them from working. This ensures financial stability during periods of incapacity.
  • Choice of Coverage: Private disability insurance policies offer flexibility, allowing individuals to tailor coverage to their specific needs. Coverage options may include short-term disability, long-term disability, or a combination of both.
  • Coverage Duration: Policies vary in terms of coverage duration. Short-term disability insurance typically covers a shorter period, often a few months, while long-term disability insurance can provide coverage for an extended duration, potentially until retirement age.

B. Application Process

Securing private disability insurance involves obtaining a policy through an employer-sponsored plan or purchasing an individual policy from an insurance provider.

How to File for Disability Benefits 

Once you know if you qualify for disability benefits, it’s time to begin the process of applying. While it may be a complex process, a social security disability attorney can guide you through every step. 

Step 1: Gather Necessary Information

Before initiating the application process, gather essential information that will be required during the filing. This includes personal details, medical records, work history, financial information, and other proof that you qualify for disability benefits.

  • Social Security Number
  • Birth certificate or proof of citizenship
  • Medical records, including diagnoses, treatments, and medications
  • Work history, including dates and job descriptions
  • Income and asset information

Step 2: Determine Eligibility

Understanding the eligibility criteria for the specific disability benefits you're applying for is crucial. Different programs, such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or Veterans Disability Benefits, have distinct requirements.

You may need to consider: 

  • Work history and credits for SSDI
  • Financial need for SSI
  • Service-connected disability for Veterans Disability Benefits

Step 3: Choose the Right Program

Select the disability benefits program that aligns with your eligibility and needs. If you're unsure, consult with professionals or government agencies to determine the most suitable program for your circumstances.

Step 4: Initiate the Application

You can begin the application process online, by phone, or in person. For Social Security benefits, use the online application system on the official Social Security Administration (SSA) website.

Step 5: Gather Medical Evidence

Support your application with comprehensive medical evidence. This includes documentation from healthcare professionals, hospitals, and clinics detailing your diagnosis, treatments, and the impact of the disability on your daily life. You may need: 

  • Doctor's reports
  • Laboratory results
  • Medication records
  • Treatment plans
  • Rehabilitation efforts

Step 6: Work with Healthcare Professionals

Engage with your healthcare providers to obtain supportive documentation for your disability claim. Their input is valuable in establishing the severity of your condition and its impact on your ability to work.

That includes informing healthcare providers about your intention to apply for disability benefits, and requesting detailed medical reports outlining your limitations and the expected duration of the disability.

Step 7: Complete the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) Form

As part of the application process, the SSA may request you to complete an RFC form. This document helps assess your ability to perform work-related activities despite your disability.

Step 8: Financial Information

If you're applying for needs-based programs like SSI, be prepared to provide financial information, including income, assets, and living expenses, like: 

  • Pay stubs
  • Bank statements
  • Property and asset information

Step 9: Appeals Process

In the event of a denial, don't be discouraged. Many initial disability claims are denied, and you have the right to appeal the decision. It’s a good idea to consult with professionals or legal advisors for guidance on the appeals process.

FAQ: Common Types of Disabilities: What Conditions Automatically Qualify for Disability Benefits ?

What is the easiest condition to get disability?

It's important to note that the ease of obtaining disability benefits is not solely determined by the condition itself but by your unique circumstances and how well it aligns with the eligibility criteria of certain disability programs. 

Some conditions may have well-established criteria and documentation processes, making it seemingly more straightforward for individuals to qualify. However, the ease of getting disability benefits ultimately depends on the thoroughness of the medical documentation, and the severity of the disability. 

It's always advisable for anyone seeking disability benefits to consult with healthcare professionals and disability lawyers for the most accurate and effective application process.

What are the criteria for disability?

The criteria for disability vary depending on the specific disability benefits program. In general, eligibility is determined by the severity of the individual's impairment and its impact on their ability to work or perform daily activities. 

For Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), applicants must have a qualifying disability that is expected to last at least one year or result in death, and they need to have accumulated sufficient work credits. 

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) considers both disability and financial need. Veterans Disability Benefits require a service-connected disability. The key factors often include medical documentation proving the existence of a qualifying disability, the duration of the disability, and the individual's capacity to engage in substantial gainful activity. 

What is the 55 rule for Social Security disability?

The "55 rule" is not a recognized term or rule in the context of Social Security disability. However, it might be a reference to the "Grid Rules" used by the Social Security Administration (SSA) in certain disability cases. The Grid Rules, also known as the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, consider an individual's age, education, work experience, and the residual functional capacity (RFC) to determine disability eligibility. For individuals aged 55 or older, the Grid Rules may be particularly relevant. In some cases, individuals over 55 may face fewer vocational opportunities due to age-related limitations, which could affect their ability to adjust to different types of work. However, the specific criteria for disability determination involve a comprehensive evaluation of the individual's overall circumstances, and age alone does not guarantee eligibility for Social Security disability benefits.

How likely am I to qualify for disability benefits and get approved for SSDI?

The likelihood of getting approved for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) depends on various factors, including the severity of your disability, the strength of supporting medical evidence, and how well your situation aligns with the eligibility criteria set by the Social Security Administration (SSA). While there is no guaranteed approval, a thorough and accurate application, along with comprehensive medical documentation illustrating the impact of your disability on daily functioning and work-related activities, can significantly enhance your chances. 

Many initial SSDI applications are initially denied, and a considerable number of applicants go through the appeals process. Seeking guidance from healthcare professionals, disability advocates, or legal advisors can provide valuable support in navigating the complexities of the application process and improving your likelihood of approval. 

Final Word: What Conditions Automatically Qualify for Disability Benefits?

Knowing what conditions qualify for disability benefits can make the demanding journey a bit more manageable, and prepare you for the process of applying. By staying informed and diligently building a compelling case, individuals can navigate the process with confidence, striving towards securing the support they need to lead fulfilling lives.

Please note that while we do our best to keep the information seen in this article and throughout our website accurate, there is nuance to each circumstance and the law can change over time. If you are seeking help with a disability claim, disability insurance, or disability benefits, speak to a disability lawyer in North Carolina. Schedule your free 30-minute initial legal consultation with a disability attorney at Van Camp, Meacham & Newman either by submitting a form below or by giving us a call at  910-295-2525.

Disclaimer: The information seen on this website, including the article above, is not legal advice or legal counsel. If you wish to speak to a disability lawyer, contact our North Carolina attorneys directly using our online form or by calling  910-295-2525. While our law firm is located in North Carolina, our attorneys have tried cases and work with clients across the country, from RaleighFayettevillePinehurst, and Sanfordto Virginia, Illinois, Oregon, and California to Florida. Call our experienced attorneys today.

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