Other Program Requirements
There are some additional components to qualifying for SSA Disability or SSI. First, there must be objective medical evidence of a severe injury or illness. For musculoskeletal problems this means an X ray, MRI, or CT scan that shows a disease or injury. For other types of disease, there must be a positive lab test or an objective physical finding. This might be a positive ANA or a typical malar rash to document systemic lupus erythematosus. For diabetic neuropathy, an elevated blood sugar and an absent reflex would usually be enough. This requirement is simply intended to weed out the disability claims that are based solely on pain or disability when there is no underlying disease causing it. A diagnosis alone is not enough. The diagnosed disease must cause some impairment. The diabetic who has normal eyes and kidneys and no peripheral neuropathy has a disease but not an impairment.
Regardless of how severe the impairment is, it must last or be expected to last 12 months to qualify for disability payments under Social Security. The person who is in a coma for a month after a head injury is clearly severely disabled for that month. However, if they have full use of their arms and legs, can see and hear, and come out of the coma with cognitive function intact, then they do not qualify for SSA Disability. On the other hand, the impairment does not have to have existed for 12 months before disability is granted. If the coma patient also has a crushed spinal cord and is going to be paraplegic, then the patient’s guardian can apply for disability immediately. If the physician supports the prognosis that the disability will last for more than 12 months, the patient may be on SSA Disability and/or SSI before he or she regains consciousness.