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Understanding Mental and Physical Impairments

Updated: Apr 12

A core provision to qualifying for Social Security Disability Benefits is having a “medically determinable physical or mental impairment” that results in the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity. Over the past few months we have discussed different areas of the social security disability process including:


Today we are going to define what mental and physical impairments are in terms of filing for socials security disability benefits.


There are a few stipulations to what is considered a qualifying mental or physical impairment.

  1. It must have lasted or be expected to last at least 12 months or result in death.

  2. It must be so severe that the claimant cannot do any work in the national economy that exists in substantial numbers.

  3. It must be medically detectable, which means that they must be demonstrable by “medically acceptable clinical and/or laboratory techniques.”

Medically acceptable clinical and/or laboratory techniques can include:

  • lab results from blood work

  • radiology and imaging results

  • physical therapy care

  • physician exam summaries.

Essentially, you need to be receiving treatment for your impairments.


It is important that the Social Security Administration has a full and detailed understanding of the history of your medical impairments. You want to make sure that they have a complete list of your medical providers and locations, and you want to make sure they have all of the appropriate dates as far back as your impairments began up to as recently as possible.


Without a comprehensive record of your medical history, Social Security will not be able to accurately evaluate your claim. In terms of proving your impairments, its better to have too much evidence, than not enough.


Filing for Social Security Disability Benefits


Last month, we discussed the SSA’s “Blue Book,” which lists specific criteria that under which claimants who suffer from a disabling condition can qualify for Social Security disability benefits. It is a list of very specific disabling conditions with very specific requirements in medical records. While meeting one of these Blue Book Conditions, can make it easier to qualify for disability benefits, it is by no means impossible if you do not. Physical impairments, while they can range widely, are typically more straightforward than mental impairments. This is because there are more clear objective medical evidence.


Arthritis is shown clearly in x-ray imaging. Degenerative Disc Disease is evident in an MRI and can be confirmed with a Straight Leg Raise Test done in the office. Diabetes can be diagnosed with labs, and doctors will run an ECG to test for diabetic neuropathy. In terms of mental impairments, and even chronic pain, there aren’t specific objective tests. For these kinds of pains and impairments, it is crucial to have a consistent documentation of your symptoms from your providers.


For mental impairments such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, etc., often a treating provider’s opinion on how those impairments affect your day-to-day functioning can hold weight for your case.

Below we have listed just some of the impairments that we have commonly seen in our clients that have been successfully awarded Social Security Disability Benefits.


Physical Impairments Mental Impairments

Degenerative Disc Disease Bipolar I and II Disorder

Arthritis Autism

Diabetes with Diabetic Neuropathy Schizophrenia

Ehrler’s Danlos Syndrome Major Depressive Disorder

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome Anxiety

Chronic Migraines Affective Disorders

Heart Disease Insomnia

Find A Disability Benefits Attorney Near You


With decades of experience in this area of law, the team at Kapor | Davis & Associates will work with you personally to assess your impairments and make the best possible case for your claim.


Contact us for a free consultation to learn how we can help you understand how to qualify and file for social security benefits. We'll answer your questions and help you remember what paperwork to bring to your appointment, so you are prepared and ready!

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