Meeting the Disability Severity Requirement

To qualify for disability benefits, you must have a “medically determinable impairment” and your impairment must be “severe.” The purpose of this requirement is to eliminate frivolous cases. These are cases in which the claimant’s condition interferes with their ability to work only slightly, if at all, or in which the claimant does not have a genuine medical problem.

A “medically determinable impairment” is an anatomical (body structure), physiological (body function), or psychological (mental) abnormality that can be established by accepted diagnostic techniques. Diagnostic techniques include such things as medical examinations, medical imaging studies, and laboratory tests. Your symptoms, like pain and fatigue, no matter how genuine or how bad, are not by themselves enough to get you benefits. Medical evidence must confirm that something is wrong with you.

As long as a doctor has enough information to make a legitimate diagnosis, you have a medically determinable impairment. Even when doctors disagree about your diagnosis, if medical signs or laboratory findings show that you have any abnormality, you have a medically determinable impairment. Virtually any reduction in your physical or mental capabilities for work satisfies the requirement that your impairment be severe, as long as the evidence shows you have a medically determinable impairment.

In deciding whether your impairment is severe, the Social Security Administration will consider the impact of your symptoms on your ability to work, so long as they stem from a medical or psychological abnormality. They should also consider the combined effect of all your impairments, even minor ones. Close cases should be decided in favor of finding your impairment to be severe.