What is a severe physical or mental impairment?
Updated: May 15, 2021
When you’re applying for Social Security disability benefits because you are suffering from a physical or mental illness or injury, you must prove your disability using the five-step sequential analysis. If you have shown that you are not earning substantial gainful activity (SGA) at step one, you then move to the second step. The second step asks whether a disability claimant has a severe physical or mental impairment or a combination of impairments that are severe.
This is where a Social Security disability claimant’s medical evidence first comes into play. To get past step two, a claimant must show some “objective medical evidence,” other than the claimant’s own subjective symptoms, which establishes that the claimant has a “medically determinable impairment.”
The impairment must also be diagnosed by the right kind of medical or other practitioner, otherwise known as an “acceptable medical source.” Social Security regulations define exactly which practitioners count as acceptable medical sources.
For some impairments, like broken bones, the objective signs or laboratory findings are obvious. For other impairments, such as fibromyalgia or mental impairments like depression or anxiety, the signs may not be as obvious.
Social Security regulations, rulings, and a vast number of cases from courts across the county have gone into detail about the signs and laboratory findings that can substantiate different impairments.
If you have a severe physical or mental illness or injury, you should consult with an attorney experienced in Social Security disability for help and advice proving your case.