How does the Social Security Administration define "disabled?"
The Social Security Administration (SSA) will determine that an individual is disabled if they have a long-term disability that prevents them from working in any capacity. An individual is disabled if they cannot engage in any substantial gainful activity (commonly referred to as SGA) because of their mental or physical medical condition.
SSA uses a Technical Approach to evaluate SGA
A technical approach to evaluating SGA looks at income derived from ongoing work activity that involves significant and productive physical or mental activities. A more common approach to evaluating SGA generally assesses whether an individual can perform the work they did prior to long-term disability, and if not, further assesses whether an individual can perform other types of work in the national economy.
Therefore, disability is evaluated in two ways: a source of earned income or an ability to work. If an individual is presently earning income from their work, the SSA will not likely find that individual disabled. Alternatively, if the SSA determines an individual is able to return to their past work, or could perform other types of work, they will not be found disabled.
What about Volunteer or Unpaid Work?
The SSA does not have specific rules regarding volunteer or unpaid work, but it can be used as evidence against a disability claim when the tasks demonstrate an ability to work. Again, the main rule is that an individual cannot receive benefits if they are engaging in SGA. If an individual is completing volunteer work, the SSA could determine those tasks rise to the SGA level and demonstrate an ability to perform other types of work.
If an individual volunteers a few hours per month, there is little chance the SSA could use this work against the disability claim, but even this statement is largely dependent on the type of work completed. For example, if an individual alleges a physical impairment that prevents them from any lifting, but that same individual volunteers to build houses at Habitat for Humanity on the weekend, this work will likely be used against their claim for disability. There would likely be a much different outcome if that individual chose to sit and read to children at a library instead.
If an individual is interested in pursuing volunteer work while receiving disability benefits, they should consider the maximum hours spent per month, the physical and mental requirements of the work, and what affect the work would have on their ability to sustain SGA.
Do You Need Legal Advice from an Experienced Social Security Attorney?
It can be a challenge to navigate the SSA rules and regulations, but you don’t have to go at it alone. When dealing with such circumstances, it is to your advantage to seek legal advice from a skilled social security attorney. With such an advocate in your corner, you will push toward a positive outcome for your legal case.
Whitcomb, Selinsky, PC and its sister firm, the Rocky Mountain Disability Law Group (RMDLG), has demonstrated skill and experience dealing with SSDI, SSI, and related matters. If you need legal advice, please do not hesitate to contact us for assistance. You can reach the attorneys at Whitcomb, Selinsky, PC or RMDLG by phone at 866-476-4558 (toll free) and 303-534-1958 (toll) or online by completing a simple form on our website.