How does the Social Security Administration determine if you are disabled?
The process of determining if you are disabled under the Social Security Act is complicated and ultimately depends on the specific facts of your case. Nonetheless, below is a summary of the five-step process that the Social Security Administration (SSA) uses to decide if you are disabled. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The five-step process is sequential, and thus, if SSA determines you are not disabled at any step of the process, the analysis ends at that point. Generally speaking, you bear the burden of proving that you are disabled at the first four steps, and SSA bears the burden of proving you are not disabled at the fifth step.
- Are you working?At the first step, SSA considers your work activity. If you are working and your earnings average more than $1,000 a month (i.e., substantial gainful activity), you generally cannot be considered disabled.
- Do you have a severe impairment?At the second step, SSA considers whether you have one or more severe physical or mental impairments. An impairment may be considered severe if it interferes with basic work-related activities. Additionally, to be considered severe, your impairment must last or be expected to last at least one year or to result in death.
- Does your condition meet or equal a listed impairment?At the third step, SSA considers if you meet or exceed a listed impairment. SSA maintains a List of Impairments that describes medical conditions considered to be so severe that if your condition meets or equals the diagnostic criteria in the listings, you are deemed to be disabled under the Act.
- Can you return to your past work?At step four, SSA determines whether you can do any of your past work based on your residual functional capacity (RFC). Your RFC describes what activities you can perform despite your impairments. If you can return to your past work, then SSA will find you are not disabled.
- Can you perform any other work?At the fifth and final step, SSA considers whether, in light of your RFC and age, education, and work experience, you can adjust to any other work in the economy. If you can adjust to other work, then SSA will find you are not disabled.
Social Security disability law is complicated. At each step of the evaluation process, there are many rules and exceptions that may apply and which are not discussed here. That’s why you should consult with the experienced and knowledgeable lawyers at Matthew D. Lane, Jr. before making any decisions. Click here to fill out and submit a free disability claim evaluation.