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5 Steps to Social Security Disability

Social Security disability is a five-step sequential process meaning that Social Security will review your case step-by-step and will not proceed on to the next step until you meet the requirements of the prior step. To help assess your chances of successfully pursuing a Social Security disability claim, below are the five steps addressed by Social Security and making that determination:

Step #1: Determining Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)

The first step in the process is a determination by the Social Security administration as to whether or not the applicant is performing substantial gainful activity.

Basically, Social Security asks if the applicant is working full time. The Social Security Administration defines full-time work each year, with the current standard being $1070 per month earned working. As long as the applicant is not earning in excess of $1070 each month the disability determination goes on to step two.

Step #2: Serious Medical Condition

The second step in the process is determining whether the applicant has a “serious medical condition.” The medical condition is considered severe if it significantly limits an individual’s ability to perform basic work activities. This determination is made by medical evidence only and thus can only be proved by regular treatment with a medical professional.

For this reason, routine treatment with a doctor is necessary to proceed past step two. If an applicant is not going to the doctor on a regular basis, that person will not be awarded disability benefits regardless of the severity of the condition.

Step #3: Listing of Impairments

After successfully completing the first two steps, the applicant is deemed eligible for disability and must prove entitlement. At step three, the Social Security Administration determines whether the claimant’s condition meets or medically equals the “listing of impairments.”

The “listing of impairments” are over 100 very specific medical conditions and related symptomology that, when supported in the medical records, almost guarantee acceptance by the Social Security Administration. These specific listings can be found on the Social Security website under “adult listings”. If a claimant does not meet or equal a listing, the analysis proceeds to step four.

Step #4: Past Work

At step four, the social security administration will assign the claimant a residual functional capacity. Residual functional capacity is the claimant’s ability to do physical and mental work activities on a sustained basis despite limitations from his impairments. It is at this step that the claimant has his best opportunity to affect his claim for better or worse.

Obtaining a medical source statement from a treating medical doctor which addresses work restrictions is the best chance claimant will have to win their claim. Based on the limitations assigned by the medical doctor, the Social Security Administration will determine whether the claimant can do his past relevant work. Past relevant work is work performed at the substantial gainful activity level over the past 15 years. If the claimant is able to perform his past relevant work he will be found not disabled. If the claimant is unable to do any of his past relevant work based on the doctors restrictions, the analysis proceeds to the fifth and final step.

Step #5: Other Work

In the last step of the sequential evaluation process, the Social Security Administration determines whether the claimant is capable of performing any other work in the regional or national economy considering his residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience. It is at this step that the limitations assigned by the claimant’s medical doctor are used again to determine if they would preclude every job in the US economy.

This is a lofty burden and is most frequently the step at which Social Security disability applicants fail. The claimant’s best opportunity to be accepted as disabled at this step is to seek constant medical treatment and to obtain a medical source statement addressing work restrictions from that physician.

Get Help When You Need It.

Always remember, we are here for you and will work hard to make sure we get the best result possible for your claim. Please contact us if you have any questions about your case or would like to schedule a free consultation.


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