Most claimants filing for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) ask us the same question: “How do I know I’m disabled?” Social Security uses a five-step process to determine disability. In this blog post, we’ll review each question in the process in detail.
If you do not qualify on the basis of even one of the questions listed below, you are not disabled. Let’s start with Step One. The SSA also assumes you meet the non-medical requirements and have sufficient work credits to apply for disability before moving on to the below criteria.
Question One: Are you working?
Claimants are either working or not working. If you are working and apply in 2021, your earnings cannot average more than $1,310 per month. But, if you earn more than that limit, known as the substantial gainful activity (SGA) standard, you do not qualify for disability.
If you are not working, or your earnings fall below the threshold above, SSA send your application to the Disability Determination Services (DDS) office. Their job is to make a determination/decision about your medical condition. Which leads us to Steps 2 – 5.
Question Two: Is your condition ‘severe’?
Your medical condition must SIGNIFICANTLY limit your ability to do basic work-related activities. Some of these activities could include lifting, standing, walking, sitting, or being able to complete basic tasks.
In addition, your medical condition must limit your ability to do these activities for at least 12 months.
Assuming your medical condition meets the above requirements, the SSA proceeds to Step 3.
Question Three: Is your condition in the list of disabling conditions?
The SSA maintains a list of medical conditions that it considers severe enough to prevent a person from engaging in substantial gainful activity (SGA). If your condition is not on the list, they have to decide if it is as severe as a medical condition that is on the list. If it is not, the SSA will proceed to Step 5.
Important note: the SSA uses a process called “compassionate allowance” that allows claimants with certain diseases and conditions to quickly receive disability.
Question Four: Can you do the work you did previously?
At this step, SSA decides if your medical impairment(s) prevents you from performing any of your past work. Past work is work you engaged in or performed over the course of your eligible working history.
If your medical impairments don’t prevent you from performing any past work, SSA will decide you don’t have a qualifying disability. If your impairments do prevent you from engaging in past work, claimants proceed to Step 5.
Question Five: Can you do any other type of work?
Assuming you can’t do the work you did in the past, SSA looks to see if there is other work you could do despite your medical impairment(s).
To make this determination, SSA will consider your medical conditions, age, education, past work experience, and any transferable skills you may have. If you can do other work, SSA will decide that you don’t have a qualifying disability and your claim will be denied.
In closing, we heavily referenced this page on the SSA website while writing this post. It’s important to remember that the basics of the process are very simple. In practice, the process usually becomes more complicated. That’s why it’s important to always work with a professional disability lawyer along the way.