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 Social Security find you disabled? How is this done?

Once your Social Security Disability claim arrives at the state disability agency, a disability examiner requests your medical information from the various sources of treatment that you listed on your application for disability benefits. As they receive your medical information, they check to see if there are current medical records to address all of the medical and/or mental conditions you allege.

They do this because while older medical records can establish how long you have had a particular condition and how long it has impaired your ability to work (as well as how much you may potentially receive in back pay), it is the information obtained from current medical records that establishes whether or not a person is disabled according to the guidelines used by the Social Security Administration.

Current Medical Records and What happens if you don’t have them

Social Security usually uses a twelve-month evaluation period to establish the severity of your conditions (in other words, to identify any limitations you might have—mental or physical, or both—that might interfere with work activity or, in the case of children, the inability to engage in age-appropriate activities).

Of course, some individuals have more than a year's worth of medical records, and others have less than a year. While Social Security likes to have a twelve-month medical history to make their disability decision, they are unable to make a disability determination without current medical records. Social Security considers medical records to be current if they are three months old or less; if you have no medical records within the last three months there is a good chance they will schedule a consultative examination for a current status of your disabling condition or conditions.

Once the medical evidence is in your disability file, the disability examiner begins the five step sequential disability evaluation process to determine if you are disabled according to the guidelines of the Social Security Disability program.

Step One

The first step of the sequential evaluation is to determine if your disabling condition is preventing you from performing substantial gainful work activity. If you are performing SGA-level work, it does not matter what your medical condition is--your disability claim will be denied. If you are not working and earning SGA-level earnings, however, the examiner will move to step two.

Step Two

Step two is an evaluation of the severity of your disabling condition and a determination as to how long your impairment expected to last. Social Security guidelines require that an impairment last twelve continuous months in order for a person to be considered disabled. The objective medical evidence in your medical records is used to establish the existence and severity of your disabling condition.

How is this done? By evaluating your medical records, the disability examiner will be able to give you a rating with regard to your RFC, or residual functional capacity.

An RFC rating is a statement of what you are ability to do, functionally, despite having one or more conditions. Of course, the initial goal of the RFC assessment is to determine if your condition is severe or non-severe. If it is non-severe, you will be denied for disability. If your disabling condition is severe, the examiner moves to step three.

Step Three

Step three is an evaluation to determine if you meet or equal the criteria of a Social Security Disability impairment listing. Social Security has a disability guidebook that contains impairment listings which list the criteria needed to meet the Social Security Disability severity requirements. The book is titled "Disability Evaluation under Social Security” and is often referred to as the blue book (in printed form, the cover is blue) or simply as the Social Security Disability list of impairments.

This guidebook contains both adult and children’s impairment listings. At this point, if you meet or equal the requirements of an impairment listing, you may be found disabled. If not, the examiner must continue the process to steps four and five. Both of these steps involve an evaluation of your ability to work and perform substantial and gainful work activity when your residual functional capacity is considered.

To consider your residual functional abilities, a disability examiner will evaluate how your medical condition has affected your ability to do basic work-related activities such as:
  1. Your ability to physically exert yourself for work related activities such as standing, walking, lifting, carrying, sitting, pushing, or pulling.

  2. Your ability to perform manipulative or postural activities such as handling large and small objects, balancing, reaching, using your finger, feeling, climbing, kneeling, crouching, or crawling. .

  3. Your ability to see, hear, or speak.

  4. Your ability to concentrate and pay attention to work.

  5. And, your ability to understand, remember and carry out instructions.

  6. They also consider your ability to tolerate environmental conditions such as dust, fumes, humidity, wetness, excess heat or cold, poor ventilation, noise, vibration, hazardous machinery, heights, or odors.
The Fourth Step

The fourth step of the sequential evaluation process is a determination as to your ability to perform any of your past relevant types of work. To do this they must assess all of your past relevant work (any job you have performed in the past fifteen years in which you earned SGA, performed for three months or more, and had time to fully learn) to decide if you are still able to do any of those jobs.

If you are not able to do any of your past work, the examiner continues to fifth and final step of the disability evaluation process.

The Fifth Step

The fifth step is an evaluation of your ability to perform any other type of work when your age, residual functional capability, transferability of your work skills, and education are considered. If the disability examiner determines that your disabling condition is so restrictive that it not only precludes your past work but any kind of other work in the national economy, you may be found disabled.

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:

If Am Medically Disabled, Can Social Security Still Turn Me Down for Disability for Some Reason?
How will Social Security find you disabled?
When is a Person Considered Fully Disabled by Social Security?
Being Determined Medically Disabled for Social Security Disability
How Does Social Security Decide If You Are Disabled Or Not?
What makes you disabled for SSD, Social Security Disability Benefits, OR SSI?
How Disabled Must You be to get Social Security Disability Approved?
How Disabled Do You Have To Be To Collect Social Security Disability or SSI?
If I apply for disability and my doctor says I am disabled, is there a waiting period to receive benefits?
Filing for disability with congestive heart failure and cardiomyopathy
Should you get a disability lawyer before you get denied in California?
Social Security Disability Back Pay in California
Social Security Disability For Mental Illness in California

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.