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 the Disability Approval Process works and how your case gets decided


How do you qualify for disability?

Author:Tim Moore, former Disability Examiner

To qualify for disability, you must have a severe medical condition. The condition must last at least a year. And your condition, which can be physical or mental, must cause enough physical or mental limitations that you can't work at your past work, or at any other work.

How does the disability process work?

Step one

The process begins with you filing for disability. You can do this online, by calling the SSA toll free line, or by contacting a local Social Security office. Speaking as a former disability examiner, I advise you to contact a local office when you file for disability benefits. This will allow you to ask questions and avoid mistakes. When you do your disability application interview with a local office, it can be done over the phone, or at the office, whichever is more convenient.

Step two

After you apply for disability benefits, your case is sent to Disability Determination Services, or DDS. Here it is assigned to a disability examiner who will evaluate the claim. This is where the disability process really begins.

Step three

The disability examiner who gets your case will send requests for your medical records to the doctors you listed when you applied. After receiving the records, the examiner will evaluate them.

At this point, we should say that there are two different ways of being approved for disability.

The first way to get disability - if your condition is on "the list"

In working on your case, the examiner may check the Social Security impairment listing manual (known as the blue book) to evaluate your physical or mental condition.

If you have a medical condition on the list, you may get disability this way. However, the requirements of a listing (such as for depression) are very specific. Most people don't win their benefits this way. And even being diagnosed with a listed condition will not mean an approval if the medical records don't provide the right information.

The second way to get disability - when the evidence shows you can't go back to work

If the examiner can't give you a listing approval, they will look to see if they can make a "medical vocational allowance".

This means the examiner will use your medical records and work history information to 1. determine what your past work required, and 2. determine if you have the ability to still do your past work, or to switch to some type of other work.

If you can't do either of these things, you may be approved for disability.

How does the examiner make a medical vocational approval?

The examiner will decide what your residual functional capacity is. RFC, or residual functional capacity is an assessment of what you can still do even with your condition. To measure it, Social Security looks at your medical records and decides what it is that you can't do. Perhaps you have trouble bending at the waist, or reaching overhead, or sitting or standing more than a short amount of time. Maybe you have difficulty remembering, or learning new things, or being around other people. These things get measured on an RFC assessment. And this measurement allows a disability examiner to decide what kind of work you can, and cannot, do.

What if you can't go back to your past work?

Your RFC assessment is compared to the requirements of your old jobs. If you can't go back to your past work, the disability examiner will investigate the possibility of you switching to some type of other work (that you have never done before). This will be based on your work skills, as well as your age, education, and residual functional capacity.

If you cannot do your past work, or do some type of other work, you will be approved for disability benefits under SSD or SSI.

But, if you CAN do either your past work or some type of other work, you will be denied on your claim for disability benefits.

There, in a nutshell, is how the disability process works. And this is, for the most part, how a judge will also decide a case at a hearing.

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:

The Social Security Disability Approval Process and the Criteria for Decisions
Disability Approval Chances at the Social Security Reconsideration and Hearing Levels
How will you be notified if you receive an Approval for Social Security Disability or SSI
Social Security Disability, SSI Decisions – What Is the Rate of Approval?
The Social Security Disability Approval
How long does it take to be approved for SSI or Social Security Disability?
The Medical Vocational Allowance Approval for Social Security Disability and SSI cases
Can you be denied for disability even if your doctor recommends that you be approved?
When can I expect my first disability check and my back pay check?
Social Security Disability Temporary Benefits and Closed Periods
How to file a disability appeal in New Jersey
If you apply for disability in in New Jersey

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.