How is Social Security Disability Awarded?
Social Security disability benefits are awarded through a sequential disability evaluation process. Social Security uses a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine if an individual is disabled. If Social Security finds you are disabled or not disabled at any step, they make a decision, or determination, and do not go to the next step. The five steps are basically as follows:
1) Social Security determines if you are engaging in work activity that is considered to be substantial gainful activity. If you are performing work activity that is considered to be SGA, your disability claim will be denied at this point.
2) The second step is determining the severity of an individual's medical or mental impairment, or combination of medical and mental impairments. If you do not have a medically determinable impairment (evidenced by objective medical findings) that is severe and meets the durational requirements (has lasted twelve months or is expected to last twelve months) your disability claim will be denied.
3) Social Security considers the severity of your medically determinable impairment. If your impairment meets or equals the criteria set forth in an impairment listing and you meet the duration requirement, you will be found disabled.
4) Social Security evaluates your residual functional capacity (what you are able to do in spite of the limitations caused by your impairment) and your past work (types of work that your performed at an SGA level for three months or more). If Social Security determines you are able to do any of your past relevant work (relevant work being work performed during the prior 15 years) you are found not disabled.
5) If you are not able to do your past relevant work, Social Security must determine if there is any "other work" that you are able to perform considering your residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience. If Social Security determines that you are not able to make an adjustment to other work your disability benefits will be awarded.
However, all of this is not really so complex. Because it simply boils down to this: if a claimant's condition is severe enough to have lasted 12 months, or severe enough that it will be thought to eventually last 12 months, and is also severe enough to prevent the claimant from working at one of their former jobs, or at some suitable type of other work, while earning a substantial and gainful income...they will be considered disabled and may be awarded Social Security disability benefits.
Return to the Social Security Disability SSI Benefits Blog
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Denial on a disability application
Residual functional capacity