Unfortunately, there is a one in twenty chance that you will need Social Security Disability benefits before you reach full retirement age according to the Social Security Administration. The scary fact is that you or someone you know will in all likelihood be faced with the diagnosis of a medical condition that makes full time work difficult if not impossible. If and when this happens you need a qualified Social Security Disability attorney who can help you work though Social Security’s complex maze of rules and regulations that determine disability. The Social Security Administration has concocted a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining disability which is so complex that it often requires the assistance of an attorney to understand it and which is discussed below.
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. Social Security is mainly concerned with whether the applicant is working full time. The full-time work standard is defined as earning $1130.00 per month by working. This amount is the gross earnings and not the net take-home pay. It is approximately $260.00 per week before taxes. The disability determination goes on to the next step as long as the applicant is not earning in excess of $1,130.00 each. If you are in excess of that number, regardless of how serious your medical problem may be, the evaluation stops and you will be found not disabled.
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, and treatment on an every two to three months basis is required at minimum. Regardless of the severity of a condition, disability benefits will not be awarded if the applicant has not been seeing a doctor on a regular basis.
After successfully completing the first two steps, the applicant is deemed eligible for disability and must prove entitlement at Step three, or Step Four plus Step Five.
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. If you can show that you have one of those conditions and support it with medical records, you can be almost guaranteed acceptance by the Social Security Administration. You can find a full list on the Social Security website under “adult listings”. If you can’t meet/equal one of the listings, your case will proceed to the next step. Meeting a listing is very are, so the vast major of claims proceed on to Steps Four and Five.
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. The best chance a claimant will have to win their case is to get medical statements from a treating medical professional addressing the claimant’s work. This is a fundamental reason to hire a competent Social Security Disability attorney to help you with your claim.
Based on the determination by the medical doctor about the limitations the claimant has, the SS Administration will decide if that person can still do any of his past relevant work. “Past relevant work” is any work performed at the substantial gainful activity level over the past 15 years. If the claimant can not perform any of his past relevant work based on the doctor’s determination of limitations, the case proceeds to the final step.
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. The determination of limitations made by a medical doctor is used to determine if those limitations would prevent the claimant from every job in the current economy. It’s the hardest test to past and is where most applicants fail. The best way to overcome this step is to consistently seek medical treatment and collect medical statements addressing work restrictions.
The process is not easy, get help.
As you can see, the Social Security Disability process is littered with rules and requirements that make the process a daunting one even for people experienced with the system. I have been specializing in Social Security Disability law since 2010 and have taken hundreds if not thousands of claims to hearing in the Florida Panhandle. Call, email, or simply join our mailing list if you would like to know more about Social Security Disability or set an appointment to ask questions. Our initial appointments are always free and the sooner you call the sooner we can start avoiding those disability pitfalls together.