How to file for disability, Filing for SSI
Disability Requirements, Disability Status
How long is the wait?, Disability Application
The Social Security List of Impairments
Qualifying for Disability, Mental Disability
Disability Lawyer Info, Disability Back Pay

Will you get a disability award if your condition does not satisfy Criteria in the Social Security Impairment List?

Note: the answer to this question appears further down in the approximate middle of this page. The information preceding this relates to the five step process that is used to make decisions on all SSD and SSI claims.

Social Security developed a five-step sequential evaluation process to help them make uniform objective disability determinations across the country. The steps of this evaluation process are as follows:

1. Is the disability applicant performing SGA? (SGA, substantial gainful work activity is work activity that earns a certain amount each month; being unable to earn the SGA amount is part of the definition of disability used by social security).

2. Does the disability applicant have a severe impairment that has prevented them or is expected to prevent them from performing SGA for at least twelve months? (note: there are cases in which individuals are found to have non-severe impairment--for example, a sprained wrist or ankle--and are denied on that basis).

3. Does severity of the impairment meet or equal the criteria of a Social Security impairment listing?

4. If the impairment does not satisfy the disability criteria of a listing in the social security listing of impairments, then do the limitations imposed by the disabling condition prevent all past relevant work? (to learn what "relevant" past work is, visit this link: ).

5. Do their limitations not only preclude all past relevant work but the ability to perform other work in the general economy (other work is mediated by whether or not the person's skills, age, education, and limititations might make it possible for them to perform other types of jobs).

Lets start with the first step of the evaluation process. Social Security must first determine if the disability applicant is perform substantial work activity (SGA), because the Social Security definition of disability requires an applicant to not only have a severe impairment but also be unable to perform work at a substantial level. Social Security must routinely deny disability applicants with significant disabling conditions--even terminal conditions--if they are performing SGA.

The basis of the entire Social Security Disability determination process is functional ability; consequently if a disability applicant has the functional ability to perform SGA, they cannot be considered disabled under the provisions of the Social Security Act.

As I stated, this is a sequential evaluation process, so we move to the second step if the disability applicant is not performing SGA due to the limitations of their disabling condition. Step two simply states that Social Security must be able to verify that the applicant's disabling condition is severe (through medical information) and that their condition is expected to prevent, or has prevented, the applicant from performing SGA for at least twelve months.

If the conditions of step two are met, Social Security Disability examiners move on to step three. Social Security has a disability guidebook that contains impairment listings for multiple body systems. The impairment listings contain the criteria needed to meet or equal the severity requirements of the individual impairment listings. If the disability applicant meets or equals the criteria of an impairment listing, then the sequential evaluation process ends at step three. At this juncture, they may be medically approved for disability benefits.

Nonetheless, the disability applicant must also meet the non-disability requirements of Social Security Disability and/or SSI to actually receive monthly disability benefits.

Will you be Awarded Disability Benefits if you do not satisfy Criteria in the Social Security Impairment List?

This is not a concern for the majority of disability claims that are eventually approved. Satisfying the requirements of a listing is fairly difficult because the approval criteria is extremely specific and very often an individual's medical files will simply not contain the necessary evidence. As a result, most disability applicants will not meet or equal the severity requirements of an impairment listing, even if they have one or more disabling medical conditions of a physical or mental nature.

However, for those who cannot be approved via a social security impairment listing, there are two more steps of the sequential evaluation process.

Note: while the next few paragraphs describe the remaining steps of the SSA evaluation process that allows a claimant to be approved on the basis of not being able to return to a past job, and, further, not being able to switch to some new type of employment, this page will sum up this process of approval as well: Medical vocational allowances are how most disability claims are approved.

The last two steps involve an evaluation of their residual functional capacity and their ability to perform past work or other types of work when their limitations are considered. To do this the disability examiner must first consider all relevant jobs performed in the past fifteen years for three months or more. A relevant job must have involved SGA and the applicant must have had time to learn the job.

If the disability examiner determines that the applicant’s residual functional capacity is so limited that it precludes all of their past relevant work, they (the examiner, or the judge if the case if being decided at a hearing) must move on to the final step.

The final step of the sequential evaluation process is, of course, step five. The disability examiner must take into account the age, education, residual functional capacity, and the transferability of the job skills of the disability applicant to determine if they able to any other kind of work in the general economy. If the disability examiner determines that an applicant is unable to do other work when considering the above criteria, they may approve the disability claim.

Essential Questions

What is the Social Security Disability SSI list of impairments?

Can you work while getting or applying for Disability?

How Often Does Social Security Approve Disability The First Time You Apply?

Tips for getting Social Security Disability or SSI benefits approved

What medical conditions will get you approved for disability?

What kind of Mental Problems Qualify for Disability?

Receiving a Disability Award Letter

Conditions Social Security will recognize as a disability

Previously answered questions regarding SSD and SSI

Applying for disability in your state

Most popular topics on SSDRC.com

Social Security Disability SSI Questions

The listings, list of disabling impairments

Can a mental illness qualify you for disability?

Disability Lawyers prevent unnecessary denials

How much Social Security Disability SSI back pay?

How to apply for disability for a child or children

Filing a Social Security Disability SSI application

Filing for disability - when to file

How to apply for disability - where to apply

Qualifications for disability benefits

How to Prove you are disabled and Win your Disability Benefits

Qualifying for Disability - The Process

How to get disability for depression

Getting disability for fibromyalgia

SSI disability for children with ADHD

What is the Application Process for Social Security Disability and SSI?

Common Mistakes to avoid after being denied for Disability

Social Security Disability SSI Exam tips

More Social Security Disability SSI Questions

Social Security Disability SSI definitions

What makes you eligible for Social Security Disability or SSI?

New and featured pages on SSDRC.com

Who can help me file for disability?

Related pages:

What is the Social Security Disability List of Impairments?
Social Security Disability for insomnia or sleep disorders
Is there a list of conditions that will Qualify you for Disability Benefits?
Filing with SSA for disabled child with autism
The Medical Vocational Allowance Approval
The two criteria used by disability examiners to make a decision on a case
How do you Win Benefits under Social Security Disability or SSI?
Will I qualify for disability Benefits in Minnesota?
If you apply for disability in Minnesota

These pages answer some of the most basic questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim.

Can you get temporary Social Security Disability or SSI benefits?

Permanent Social Security Disability

What is the difference between Social Security Disability and SSI?

Who is eligible for SSI disability?

Can I Be Eligible For SSI And Social Security Disability At The Same Time?

What makes a person eligible to receive disability benefits?

Applying for Disability - How long does it take to get Social Security Disability or SSI benefits?

What happens if I file a disability application and it is denied by a disability examiner or Judge?

For the sake of clarity, SSDRC.com is not the Social Security Administration, nor is it associated or affiliated with SSA. This site is a personal, private website that is published, edited, and maintained by former caseworker and former disability claims examiner, Tim Moore, who was interviewed by the New York Times on the topic of Social Security Disability and SSI benefits in an article entitled "The Disability Mess" and also by the Los Angeles Times on the subject of political attempts to weaken the Social Security Disability system.

The goal of the site is to provide information about how Social Security Disability and SSI work, the idea being that qualified information may help claimants pursue their claims and appeals, potentially avoiding time-consuming mistakes. If you find the information on this site helpful and believe it would be helpful to others, feel free to share links to its homepage or other pages on website resource pages, blogs, or social media. Copying of this material, however, is prohibited.

To learn more about the author, please visit the SSDRC.com homepage and view the "about this site" link near the bottom of the page.