Social Security Disability Resource Center

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Hearings | Appeals | List of Disabling Conditions

Will Social Security find you disabled? How?

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.

  • What medical conditions will get you approved for disability?

  • What kind of Mental Problems Qualify for Disability?

  • Which conditions will social security recognize as a disability?

  • Tips for getting Social Security Disability or SSI benefits approved

  • SSDRC Homepage:

    Social Security Disability and SSI Resource Center

    The Most Basic questions about Getting Disability Benefits

    Social Security Disability SSI and whether or not you can work

    Common Mistakes to avoid after being denied for Disability

    Social Security Disability SSI Questions and Answers

    More Social Security Disability SSI Questions and Answers

    Common Questions about Social Security Disability and SSI

    Winning Social Security Disability or SSI Benefits

    The SSI Disability Benefits Program

    Social Security Disability SSI and Doctors - Yours and Theirs

    Social Security Disability and SSI Claim Reviews

    Social Security Disability SSI System and Benefits for Children

    Denials, Appeals, and Getting a Disability Lawyer or Representative

    What you should know about Social Security Disability and SSI Denials

    Questions about Disability Lawyers and Hiring a Disability Attorney

    Various Types of Benefits including SSI, Mental, and Child benefits

    Social Security and SSI based on Mental Disability

    Social Security Disability or SSI Benefits for Children

    Disability Benefits through Social Security

    Filing for Social Security Disability or SSI Benefits

    Social Security Disability SSI: Medical Evidence and Records

    Filing your claim for disability benefits

    Eligibility for receiving disability benefits

    Resources on this site

    Social Security Disability, SSI Terms and Definitions

    Previously answered questions regarding SSD and SSI

    The SSDRC Disability Blog

    For Individuals living in North Carolina

    Disability in North Carolina

    North Carolina Disability Lawyer

    Getting disability in North Carolina

    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

    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