Partial Disability: Legal Definition

Partial disability refers to any physical or mental condition that prevents a person from working at their full capacity. It may cause a person to have difficulty performing certain tasks, but it does not take away their ability to earn a living. With total disability, however, the person cannot work at all.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) does not offer disability benefits to partially disabled people. It is an all-or-nothing proposition. To receive monthly compensation, you must demonstrate to the SSA that you are totally disabled. Other benefit programs, such as veterans’ disability, private disability insurance, and workers’ compensation, recognize partial disability and offer benefits for it.

Partial vs. Total Disability

There are significant differences between total and partial disability. If you are seeking these benefits it is vital to know the difference.

Total Disability

Total disability can mean different things depending on who is providing the definition. For Social Security purposes, total disability is the “inability to partake in substantially gainful activity (SGA).” Social Security defines SGA as regular, full-time work from which you can earn an income above the poverty level.

As of 2018, if you are capable of making as little as $1,180 per month — not enough to keep a roof over your head in most parts of the country — the SSA does not consider you totally disabled.

Other disability providers might use different criteria to classify total disability. They might, for instance, set different maximum earnings levels or specify a list of conditions that qualify as totally disabling.

Partial Disability

Partial disability is much broader than total disability and can encompass a wider range of ailments. Depending on who you ask, anything from a minor issue that amounts to little more than an inconvenience to a major medical condition that falls just short of total disability might fall under the umbrella of partial disability.

Although the SSA does not recognize or provide benefits for partial disabilities, the Veterans Benefits Administration, workers’ compensation, and private insurance companies do.

Collecting Benefits for Partial Disability

If you have a partial disability, while you cannot receive Social Security Disability, you have a few places to turn for benefits:


If you are a veteran with any discharge other than dishonorable, you may be eligible to collect VA disability benefits for your condition. The Veterans Benefits Administration does not require you to be totally disabled to receive benefits. Instead, it rates your condition on a scale of 0 to 100 percent. The more severe your medical condition, the higher your rating, and the more compensation you receive.

Workers’ Compensation

If an on-the-job injury left you partially disabled, you can file a workers’ compensation claim and collect money to pay for your medical bills, lost wages, and other economic damages.

Private Insurance

Many private disability plans cover partial disability. If you have such an insurance plan, either through your employer or in the private marketplace, you may qualify to file a claim.

Call 865-566-0800 Today for a Free Consultation

The Social Security disability attorneys at the Disability Advantage Group want to help you figure out the best way to collect benefits for your disability. For a free case evaluation, call us at 865-566-0800.