What Qualifies as a “Severe Impairment” for Social Security Disability?

What Qualifies as a “Severe Impairment” for Social Security Disability?

Nearly any mental or physical medically determined impairment can be considered a “severe impairment” under the Social Security Administration rules at Step 2. However, it must meet certain requirements. Remember, the 12 month duration rule applies here.  

First, it must be a medically determinable impairment, properly diagnosed by an acceptable medical source. Acceptable medical sources are providers like doctors, psychologists, physician assistants, and certain nurse practitioners with advanced training. A full list can be found here.

What does properly diagnosed mean? It means that it complies with agency rules and is based upon abnormalities that can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory techniques. In short, there must be objective evidence to support the diagnosis. The rule on that can be found here

Second, the impairment must cause “more than a minimal effect” upon any basic work activity that can be expected to last 12 months. It is a very low standard.

How low?

Some courts have commented that the standard is so low, it is simply there to screen out only the most frivolous of claims. Generally speaking, of thousands of cases, perhaps one or two will be denied at step 2 for not having a severe impairment. The real difficulty in deciding cases is not deciding whether any particular impairment is severe, but trying to decide the residual functional capacity in the case, the RFC. The judge then applies those limits [the most you can do on a full-time basis] against your past work or other work to see if you are disabled. We will write more on that in future posts.

Here’s a simple infographic explaining what a “severe impairment” is under Social Security rules:  

One more point: if the impairment by itself does not cause more than a minimal effect, it still might be severe in combination with other impairments. A good example is obesity. By itself, obesity may not be a severe impairment, but when the person also has diabetes, hypertension, or other common impairments found in combination with obesity, it likely is a severe impairment. Of course, each case is different and must be assessed independently by the judge.

“Severe impairment” can be confusing. After all, if it is such a low standard why call it severe? Further,  even though it may appear to be an acute injury – like a broken leg, if it heals fully within 12 months it is considered non-severe under the rules.

Confusing? We can help. Call us for a free evaluation of your case.

PounceLaw: We know Social Security disability from the inside out.