How Does Social Security Determine If I Am Disabled?

Man filing out a social security disability claim form

Posted on May 3, 2021

The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses a 5-step, sequential process to determine if you qualify for disability benefits.  Here’s a quick overview of that process:

Step 1: Are you currently working?

First of all, the SSA will first want to know if you are still working.  If you are currently working, and making $1,310 or more per month (in 2021), you are engaging in “substantial gainful activity,” and you are not disabled.  If you are not currently working, or you are working but not making more than $1,310 per month, the SSA will move on to step 2.


Step 2: Is your impairment “severe?”

Secondly, the disability examiner evaluating your application for Social Security disability (SSD) benefits will consider whether your impairment(s) substantially interferes with basic work-related activities, such as standing, sitting, walking, pushing, pulling, lifting, carrying, and remembering simple instructions, to name a few.  If your ability to engage in these basic work requirements is impacted by your condition, the SSA will move on to step 3.


Step 3: Is your condition on the SSA’s list?

Next, the disability examiner will consult the SSA’s Listing of Impairments, often referred to as the “Blue Book.”  This is a list of physical and mental impairments that the SSA has compiled, along with the medical criteria for each.  If your treatment records show evidence that matches the criteria listed in the Blue Book, you are considered to “meet a listing,” and you are disabled.  If your condition is not on the list but is “equal in severity” to the impairments on the list, you will be considered disabled. If you do not meet or equal a listing, the SSA will move on to step 4.


Step 4: Can you do your past work?

Fourth, the SSA looks at your “past relevant work” and the physical and mental requirements it takes to do that kind of work.  If your current limitations do not prevent you from returning to your previous work, you are not disabled.  If you are not able to do your past relevant work because of your impairment, the SSA will move on to step 5.


Step 5: Can you do any other type of work?

Finally, the disability examiner will consider your limitations, age, education, past work experience, and any transferable skills you may have to determine if there is any other job that you would be able to do.  If the examiner decides you could do other jobs, your claim will be denied.  If the examiner decides there is no other job you would be able to do based on these criteria, you are considered disabled and will be awarded your Social Security disability benefits.


Do you need help applying for Social Security disability (SSD) benefits?  Have you already been denied and need help appealing your claim?  Contact us today for a free case review.

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