Overview of Disability

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How long do cases take?

How to win Disability

SSD Mistakes to avoid

Disability for Mental

What if you get denied?

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Disability through SSA

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Working and Disability

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Disability Conditions List

What is a disability?

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How are Social Security Disability cases decided? - the Process Social Security Uses In Every Disability Case

How are Social Security Disability cases decided? (Note: the following information also applies to how SSI disability cases are decided since both programs treat claims in an identical fashion).

Social Security uses a five step sequential evaluation process to make all of their disability decisions. The five steps of the sequential process are as follows:

1. Has the individual worked and earned SGA-level earnings since the alleged onset of disability (when a person feels that they became disabled)? Or are they currently performing SGA-level work activity?

Note: SGA (substantial gainful activity) is the "monthly gross income earnings limit" for individuals who are either filing for disability or receiving disability. If you work and earn at least this much, you will not be considered disabled.

If an individual is working over the monthly SGA earnings amount (each year Social Security determines an amount of monthly earned income that it considers to be substantial gainful activity) with no special conditions given by their employer to enable them to perform their work, their claim will be denied for SGA performance and the sequential evaluation process ends there.

If an individual has performed work since their alleged onset that is under the monthly SGA amount, or they have not worked since the alleged onset of disability, the sequential evaluation process moves to step 2.

2. Does the individual have a severe impairment? Social Security considers any medically determinable mental or physical impairment to be severe if it has already prevented an individual from performing SGA for twelve months; or it is expected to prevent them from performing SGA for twelve continuous months; or the condition will result in death.

If Social Security determines there is a severe medical impairment, the sequential evaluation process moves to step 3.

3. Does the individualís impairment meet or equal the disability criteria of a Social Security impairment listing? All impairment listings and their criteria are contained in the Social Security disability evaluation book, "Disability Evaluation Under Social Security".

If an individual meets or equals the impairment listing criteria (for a certain condition; for example, depression, or arthritis), their disability claim will be approved for disability benefits at this level. If their impairment does not meet or equal the criteria of an impairment listing, the sequential evaluation process moves to step 4.

4. Can their individual return to past relevant work? Relevant past work is any work that A) an individual performed for three months or longer, B) that they had time to learn and C) in which they earned the SGA amount or more in the past fifteen years. If an individual cannot return to even the least of these jobs, the sequential evaluation process moves to step 5.

5. Can the individual perform other work? Other work is any other type of work that is performed in the general national economy that an individual might be able to perform when their age, education, residual functional capacity, and transferability of job skills is considered (note: generally, Social Security considers individuals who are over the age of 55 not to be re-trainable for other types of work).

If an individual is unable to perform any of their past work, or any other work, as it is performed in the national economy, they may be approved for Social Security disability.

Social Security uses the five step sequential evaluation process to make all of their disability determinations, whether the claim is for a mental or physical condition, or whether it is filed under the SSI or SSD program. This, of course, is what makes the social Security disability process uniform nationwide.

Return to:  Social Security Disability Resource Center, or read answers to Questions

Related pages:

How are Social Security Disability cases decided? - the Process Social Security Uses In Every Disability Case
What is the process for approving a Social Security disability claim?
Filing for Disability - Can you speed up the Social Security Disability process?
Why is the Social Security Disability Decision Process So Slow?
Crucial Information about the Social Security Disability Application Process and SSI
Disability Claims Through Social Security ó How Long is the Process?
The Social Security disability award notice process in North Carolina
How to qualify for disability - The Process of Qualifying for Benefits
Social Security Disability SSI Criteria and the Evaluation Process
The Social Security Disability Approval Process and the Criteria for Decisions

Information on the following topics can be found here: Social Security Disability Questions and in these subsections:

Frequently asked questions about getting Denied for Disability Benefits | FAQ on Disability Claim Representation | Info about Social Security Disability Approvals and Being Approved | FAQ on Social Security Disability SSI decisions | The SSD SSI Decision Process and what gets taken into consideration | Disability hearings before Judges | Medical exams for disability claims | Applying for Disability in various states | Selecting and hiring Disability Lawyers | Applying for Disability in North Carolina | Recent articles and answers to questions about SSD and SSI

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

Filing for disability - How to file for SSD or SSI and the Information that is needed by Social Security
How to Apply for Disability - What medical conditions can you apply and qualify for?
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?
How to Prove you are disabled and qualify to win disability benefits
How do you prove your disability case if you have a mental condition or impairment?
Social Security Disability Back pay and How Long it Takes to Qualify for it and receive it
Social Security Disability SSI - Eligibility Requirements and Qualifications Criteria