According to the Social Security Administration, a 20-year-old worker has a 30 percent chance of becoming disabled before she retires. Social Security has benefits available for disabled workers who meet certain conditions. These benefits can help you make ends meet until you can return to work -- or, if necessary, for the rest of your life.
Definition of Disability
The Social Security Administration defines "disability," in general, as an inability to work. More specifically, the agency requires that you meet three conditions: You are unable to do the work you did before; your condition prevents you from doing any other work; and your disability has lasted one year, is expected to last at least one year, or will result in your death. The requirements are strict because these benefits are intended to help with severe, long-term health problems that interfere with work. Short-term disability is expected to be covered by insurance, worker's compensation and the like.
The SSA maintains a list of conditions that can lead to a finding of disability. Generally, these are conditions that can cause severe impairment in day-to-day functioning. These include joint and spinal problems, severe amputations or burns and nonhealing fractures; visual disorders or loss of speech or hearing; pulmonary disorders or infections; heart disease, heart failure or arrhythmia; liver disease, inflammatory bowel disease or kidney failure; anemia or hemophilia; severe skin disorders; thyroid problems; Down syndrome; and neurological problems such as epilepsy, Parkinson's or cerebral palsy.
Cancers and Immune System Disorders
In addition to the above problems, SSA also accepts cancers -- malignant neoplasms -- that cause significant impairment. In particular, most sarcomas and carcinomas are accepted, as well as most cancers that have metastasized and those that are persistent or inoperable. Leukemia and lymphoma qualify under certain conditions. Autoimmune disorders such as lupus, vasculitis, scleroderma and inflammatory arthritis -- such as rheumatoid arthritis -- are accepted, depending on the degree of impairment and how they respond to treatment. The same is true of immune deficiencies such as HIV.
Certain mental disorders can also qualify a person as disabled if they cause significant impairment in day-to-day activities, social functioning or concentration. Examples include schizophrenia, paranoia and psychosis; depression, mania or bipolar disorder; severe mental retardation; severe anxiety; personality disorders; and autism and other developmental disorders. Substance abuse problems can qualify if they lead to any of the above mental disorders, or to digestive disorders or seizures.