The U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) utilizes a five-step evaluation procedure for determining a claimant’s entitlement status for disability benefits. Each step is considered in-depth and consecutively as the claimant’s case application progresses through each step. It is also important to note that a claimant’s case must move through all five steps (or meets all the conditions up to step three) in order for the SSA to deem them eligible for disability benefits. This post will describe the five-step process, and prevalent terminology, in its most straightforward form.

Step 1: Are You Working? (Substantial Gainful Activity)

The SSA will look at your working activity to determine if you are engaged in substantial gainful activity. According to the SSA, substantial gainful activity is considered any general work that brings in $1,040 a month (2013). If you are working and your earnings are over $1,040 a month, the SSA will not consider you disabled and your claim will be denied. If you are not working or if you are earning less than $1,040 a month, then they will move your application along to the second step.

Step 2: Is you condition “severe”? (Duration Requirement and Severity of Impairment)

The SSA will now consider the severity of your medical impairments. According to the SSA the duration requirement is met if the medical impairment has lasted, or is expected to last, for an uninterrupted period of at least 12 months or if the impairment is expected to result in death. The SSA also considers a severe medical impairment to be one which significantly limits your physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. If you do not have a severe medical impairment, and do not meet the duration requirement, the SSA will not consider you to be disabled and your claim will be denied. If you meet the duration and severity requirement, your application will move along to the third step.

Step 3: Is Your Condition Found in the List of Disabling Conditions? (SSA List of Medical Conditions)

The SSA maintains a listing of medical conditions for each major body system.  The medical conditions found within the listing are considered to be ‘so severe’ that having one of these disabilities will consider you disabled within SSA guidelines. If your condition is on the list and you meet the duration requirement, then you may skip step four and five. If your condition is not on the list, then the SSA will move to steps four and five to determine if it is of equivalent severity to a medical condition that is found on the list.

Step 4: Can You Do the Work You Did Previously? (Residual Functional Capacity)

The SSA will look at your residual functional capacity. In simpler terms: it is your ability to do the most you can despite your condition. If your condition is considered severe and impacts your residual functional capacity, but is not considered to be of equal severity to the medical condition on the list, the SSA will look at your past work activity. If the condition is not considered to interfere with your ability to do your previous work, then the SSA will deny your claim. If it does interfere with your ability to do your previous work then your application will move along to the fifth and final step.

Step 5: Can you do any other type of work? (Residual Functional Capacity and ability to adjust to other work)

If you are not able to complete your previous work, the SSA will consider your medical condition(s), age, education, past work experience and any transferable skills to determine your ability to adjust to other work. If you are able to adjust to alternative work, the SSA will deny your claim. If you cannot adjust to alternative work, your claim will be approved for benefits.

The Law Office of Matt Liebenhaut represents people with disabilities in North Florida and South Georgia, including the cities of Pensacola, Tallahassee, Valdosta, Lake City Jacksonville, and Ocala.  Feel free to contact us today for a free evaluation from a social security disability attorney.

By: Matt Liebenhaut