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Disability Determination

Please see our Disability Determination COVID-19 FAQs for specific question regarding determinations during this time.

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The Bureau of Disability Determination (BDD) is the state agency that assists the Social Security Administration (SSA) in determining whether disabled Pennsylvania citizens are eligible for federal disability benefits.

On average, the Bureau processes 145,000 Pennsylvania disability claims each year. The Bureau employs case examiners, physicians and psychologists to process case reviews for the following two programs:

  1. The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program provides benefits to disabled or blind individuals who are insured by workers contributions to the Social Security trust fund. These contributions are the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) social security tax paid on their earnings or those of their spouses or parents. Title II of the Social Security Act authorizes SSDI.

  2. The Supplemental Security Income Program (SSI) makes cash assistance payments to aged, blind and disabled people (including children under age 18) who have limited income and resources. The Federal government funds SSA from general tax revenues. Title XVI of the Social Security Act authorizes SSI.

Definition of Disability

By law, Social Security has a very strict definition of adult disability. To be found disabled:

  • You must be unable to do any substantial work because of your medical condition(s); and
  • Your medical condition(s) must have lasted, or be expected to last, at least 1 year, or be expected to result in your death

Social Security also has a strict definition of disability for children.

  • The child must have a physical or mental condition(s) that very seriously limits his or her activities; and
  • The condition(s) must have lasted, or be expected to last, at least 1 year or result in death

How to Qualify for Social Security Benefits

To be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI):

The worker must have worked and paid Social Security taxes for a sufficient period of time to be covered under Social Security insurance; some of the taxes must have been paid in recent years; and

You must:

  1. Be the insured worker or the worker's adult child or widow(er);
  2. Meet SSA s medical disability criteria; and
  3. Not be performing any substantial work as defined by SSA.

For more information on how to qualify for SSDI benefits, please visit the Social Security Administration's website at

To be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) based on a medical condition:

You must:

  1. Have little or no income or resources;
  2. Be a US citizen or meet the requirements for non-citizens;
  3. Meet SSA s medical disability criteria; and
  4. Not be performing any substantial work as defined by SSA.

For more information about the SSI program go to:

Applying for Social Security Benefits

It may take several months to process an application for disability benefits, so you should apply as soon as you become disabled. To apply for disability benefits, you will need to complete an application for Social Security Benefits and the Disability Report. You can complete the Disability Report online at To identify what information you will need when you apply for Disability Benefits, go to:

You may also visit the Social Security Administration web site at for the latest information regarding the Disability Program.

Processing Claims for Social Security Disability

The Social Security Administration first reviews applications for disability benefits to determine if the basic requirements of eligibility are met. Eligible applications are then forwarded to the BDD for determination of an applicant s medical eligibility for disability benefits under the Social Security law. Medical evidence is requested and reviewed from the applicant s doctors, hospitals and other institutions that provide medical treatment. Information that may be requested from your doctor includes:

  • What your medical condition is;
  • When your medical condition began;
  • How your medical condition limits your activities;
  • What the medical tests have shown; and
  • What treatment you have received.

BDD may also ask the doctors for information about your ability to do work-related activities, such as walking, sitting, lifting, carrying and remembering instructions. Your doctors are not asked to decide if you are disabled.

For children, information may be requested from medical sources, school sources and other people who know about the child.

If additional information is necessary, special examinations, at no cost to the applicant, will be scheduled to obtain the required information.

Appeals Process

If you disagree with a decision we make, you have the right to appeal the decision.

Your request must be in writing and delivered to any Social Security office within 60 days of the date you receive the letter containing our decision.

For in depth and up to date information on how to appeal your decision, visit the following website: