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SSDI - Do I have to be completely unable to do anything to qualify?

Social Security Disability Insurance or SSDI is only awarded to applicants who can prove that they are unable to perform what the SSA (Social Security Administration) calls substantial gainful activity. If you are able to work at an SGA level within the next 12 months than the SSA will determine you are automatically not disabled and they will deny your SSDI claim.

Recently on our disability forum we had a claimant ask, “Do I have to be unable to do anything to get SSDI benefits?” This blog will address what you can and cannot do to qualify for benefits.


How much is too much activity to receive SSDI?


Claimants do not have to be paralyzed lying in a bed completely unable to move to qualify for SSDI benefits. If this is what the claimant is asking, then no, you do not have to be completely inactive to qualify. If this was the case there would be very few applicants who would receive benefits.

A follow up question is, “How much activity is too much?” This can be complicated, but the general idea is that if the activity you can do is similar to work than the SSA is likely to decide that you are not disabled.

Consider a volunteer that performs volunteer work for 25 to 35 hours in a soup kitchen or taking meals to shut-ins. This volunteer would have a tough time convincing the SSA that they could not do similar work for pay. What about the student that attends classes 30 hours per week but claims they cannot work? The SSA is likely to argue that a sedentary desk job would take less effort than walking to class, focusing for extended periods of time, carrying a heavy back pack and studying.

Another consideration, if you are getting SSDI or SSI, is what types of activities you can perform. For instance, I have a friend who gets SSDI benefits due to a severe back condition. If a SSA investigator saw her doing very strenuous activities (think running, yard work, or lifting heavy objects) they are likely to get the idea that my friend may be getting SSDI under fraudulent conditions. Why? Because the claimant claimed they did not have the ability to do these types of activities when they applied for SSDI benefits.

Does the activity have to be for pay or profit?


Another consideration that many claimants are not aware of is that activity does not have to be for pay or profit. Think of the volunteer above, they are not receiving pay for their work efforts but the activity is comparable to work and can be considered “substantial” even if it is not “gainful.”

The bottom line is if you can do activities which are comparable to work you need to be working. It is unlawful and unethical to bilk the system if you have the capability to work. Fraudulent claims also take money and resources from applicants who are truly disabled.


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