How Does Social Security Define Incapacitated?

To receive Social Security benefits, you must have worked jobs that are covered by Social Security as well as have a medical condition that meets Social Security’s definition of “incapacitated.”

Social Security has a strict method to define incapacitated. Unlike other programs, to receive Social Security disability benefits, you must typically be incapacitated (disabled) and have done insignificant (non-substantial) work for the past 12 months.

How does the Social Security Administration (SSA) define incapacitated? In order, to be considered incapacitated, the Social Security Administration (SSA) requires that you be unable to perform substantial gainful activity (SGA).

More On Substantial Gainful Activity

According to the SSA, substantial work activity means you are doing significant physical or mental activities even if it is part-time or your income is less than when you became incapacitated.

Gainful activity is something that you get paid to do or could get paid to do, even if you are not getting paid to do those activities. We are talking about volunteering, home business, babysitting (potentially), and similar.

Moreover, there is also a wage component to SGA. You might be able to do minimal work but not earn a basic minimum wage in doing so, due to your disabling conditions or incapacity. For 2017, that amount is $1,170 for non-blind applicants and $1,950 for blind applicants. If you are making over this amount per month from your job, then the SSA believes that you are not disabled and can engage in competitive employment.

Finances Do Factor into Some Disability Discussions, But Not All

The SSA does not take into consideration any money you bring in from outside sources such as interest, investment, or gifts when looking at SGA for SSDI. However, low earnings do not necessarily constitute low SGA. For example, if you are working as a substitute teacher, you can still be found as doing SGA though you are not likely getting paid very much, or very regularly.

In that example, your low-income rate is not due to being disabled, but rather due to the on-call nature of your job. In this same vein, volunteer activities could also be considered SGA if they are something that could be considered a paying job, even if irregular, or non-paying. The fact that others earn a living doing the work could leave the impression that you are not incapacitated from doing the same.

On the other side of the coin, high earnings do not necessarily mean you were doing SGA either. For instance, if you are working under certain special circumstances, your wage might not have any correlation with your incapacity. Here are some examples:

  • You required assistance for co-workers to complete your tasks
  • You were able to take a frequent rest break or able to work irregular hours
  • Special equipment was provided to assist you in your tasks
  • Work was assigned specifically to you based on your disability
  • You relied on other people to transport you to and from work
  • A lower standard of productivity or efficiency was allowed due to your disability

Incapacity and SGA

You can probably see at this point how the SSA looks at SGA to define “incapacitated” and apply it to your situation or to state that you are not incapacitated. If the SSA sees that you are making SGA, your claim will be likely be denied barring special circumstances (as listed above).

So what if you recently quit working but are not sure you cannot work elsewhere or perform SGA? If you apply for benefits and then stop working due to your disability, you can keep looking for opportunities to earn work. In fact, if you are successful in becoming gainfully employed, that is great! If however, you are unsuccessful, those can be considered unsuccessful work attempts and with the help of a good advocate, they will help to make your SSDI case stronger with the SSA.

SGA Helps to Define Incapacitated!

Substantial gainful activity plays a considerable part in the Social Security Administration’s approach to define incapacitated; though there are many grey areas involved. In fact, we covered just a few above. There are most certainly more.

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