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 does Social Security Decide if I am Disabled?

continued from: If you are denied for disability, is this based on your ability to do your past work?

Whether a claim is being decided at the disability application level, the reconsideration appeal level, or the disability hearing hearing level (where all facts of the case are heard by a federal administrative law judge), the process is the same. All claims undergo a process known as sequential evaluation, in which the claimant's condition is compared to the type of work that they did in the past and is also considered in context with whatever education and skills they possess.

Here is an explanation of the sequential evaluation process used by both disability examiners (at disability determination services, the agency that processes disability claims for the social security administration) and social security ALJs (administrative law judges):

Security Disability and SSI Determinations made under the Sequential Evaluation Process

A) Is the person working and earning a substantial and gainful income at the time they make an application for disability? If they are, their case will be denied. If they are not working at all, or they are working and earning less than the SGA limit, then their case moves on to the next step.

B) Does the person have a severe impairment? Most impairments will be considered severe, simply because most impairments have at least some built-in potential to last at least one full year. However, there are some conditions for which people file claims that can never be considered severe, such as minor sprains and lacerations and seasonal flu. Disability examiners (the individuals who decide claims at the application and reconsideration appeal levels) do encounter claims based on these kinds of trivial allegations and when this happens the case is denied for NSI, or non-severe impairment. Having said this, though, most claims do involve legitimate and severe impairments and, therefore, the case can move on to the next step in the sequential evaluation process.

C) Does the applicant meet or equal a listing in the blue book? A better way of saying this, of course, is "Does the applicant have a condition for which their medical records satisfy the requirements of a blue book listing (for example, there are listings for seizure disorder, conditions of the spine, various forms of heart disease, various forms of cancer, depression, traumatic brain injury, diabetes, vision and hearing loss, skin disorders, etc, etc). If the applicant cannot satisfy a listing requirement, the case moves on to the next level which involves past work.

D) Can the applicant perform their past work work? This determination is made by assessing what the applicant is currently capable of doing, both mentally and physically, and then comparing it to the demands of their relevant past jobs. If the demands of those jobs are greater than what they are currently capable of doing, it will be determined that they cannot return to their past work.

Now, the inevitable question: if an applicant for disability benefits cannot do their past work, will they be approved for disability? And the answer is, maybe. This is because if a person is judged to be unable to do their past work, there is still one more step:

E) Can the applicant who cannot do their past work still do some type of other work?

Other work includes jobs that the applicant's job skills might qualify them for. However, whether or not a person will be considered capable of doing past work will also depend on their age, education, and remaining functional capabilities.

So, to answer the question with which we started is, yes, a denial of disability benefits will involve the consideration of a person's ability to do past work, but the process does not stop there. A person will typically only be approved for disability benefits if it is determined that they cannot do their past work and, in addition to this, they cannot do other jobs that their age and training might otherwise qualify them for. Satisfying this criteria will result in them being 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:

How does Social Security Decide if I am Disabled?
How Does Social Security Decide How Much I Get For Social Security Disability or SSI?
How Will Social Security Decide a Disability Case that's filed?
Who will decide my Social Security Disability claim?
Does Your Doctor Decide If You Get Disability Benefits from Social Security or SSI?
How does Social Security Disability Decide if you can Work or Not?
How does Social Security use Evidence to Decide an SSDI or SSI Disability Claim and Make a Decision?

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?

Getting a Disability Lawyer in Arkansas

If you apply for disability in Arkansas

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.