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How does Social Security decide if someone has a disability?

On Behalf of | Oct 12, 2023 | Social Security Disability

The Social Security Administration provides financial support to individuals with disabilities. Social Security uses a five-step sequential evaluation process to assess disability claims. At each step, the applicant must meet specific criteria to proceed to the next level of evaluation.

If you or a loved one has become disabled, understanding the process can make it easier to apply for Social Security disability.

Substantial gainful activity

The first step involves determining if the applicant engages in substantial gainful activity. If the person earns above a certain monthly threshold set by the SSA, they generally do not qualify for benefits.

Severity of impairment

If the applicant does not perform substantial gainful activity, the SSA evaluates the severity of the disability. It must significantly limit the individual’s ability to perform basic work activities.

Listing of Impairments

SSA maintains a Listing of Impairments, outlining specific medical conditions that automatically qualify as disabilities. If you have one of these conditions, you will receive application approval at this stage.

Past relevant work

If the impairment does not meet or equal a listed condition, the SSA assesses whether the applicant can perform their past relevant work. If you can still do the job you used to do, you cannot qualify for disability benefits.

Other work

If the applicant cannot perform past relevant work, the final step involves evaluating their ability to perform other types of work. The SSA will consider:

  • Age
  • Education
  • Work experience
  • Residual functional capacity

You may receive approval at this stage if the SSA finds you cannot adjust to a different job.

Only about 23% of applicants qualify for Social Security disability according to SSA data. You can improve your chances by providing comprehensive medical documentation, including diagnoses, treatment records and the impact of the impairments on daily activities. The SSA relies on this evidence to make informed decisions about disability claims.

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