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

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 individual’s 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.

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:

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 — 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
If you apply for disability in Washington
Getting a Disability Lawyer in Washington
Disability Benefits in Washington

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.