Did you know that the Social Security Administration has a five-step, sequential evaluation process to determine whether an individual is disabled or not disabled? Each step of the way, the SSA makes an analysis and tries to determine whether an individual is disabled or not. If the SSA cannot make that determination at a particular step, it moves to the next step. The five steps are based on the definition of disability set forth in the Social Security Act. The Act defines disability as the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” At the end of the five-step process, the SSA will determine whether you are considered disabled and, therefore, eligible to receive Social Security disability benefits.
What Are the Five Steps SSA Takes to Determine Disability?
At the first step, the SSA asks whether an individual working at a substantial gainful activity (SGA) level. The SGA changes from year to year. If an individual is working and earning more than the SGA, then he or she will be found not disabled. If an individual is earning less than the SGA, then the SSA adjudicator goes to step 2.
At step 2, the SSA asks whether the individual applicant’s physical or mental condition is severe. In order to meet this requirement, the individual has to have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that is both severe and meets the durational requirement of being expected to last twelve months or prove fatal.
On the third step, the SSA asks whether the individual’s medical condition meets or is equal to the severity of a medical listing in the SSA blue book of impairments. If an individual meets a listing or has an equivalent disability, then he or she will be found to be disabled. If not, then the SSA adjudicator will go on to step 4. Prior to moving on to step 4, however, the SSA will assess the individual’s residual functional capacity (RFC) which is, essentially, an accounting of the individual’s ability to participate in full-time work.
At step 4, the SSA asks whether the individual is able to engage in any past relevant work. This requires a side-by-side comparison of the person’s RFC and past relevant work. If the individual has the ability to engage in past relevant work, then he or she will be determined to be not disabled. If past relevant work cannot be done by the individual, then the SSA adjudicator will move on to step 5.
At step 5, the last step in the process, the SSA asks whether the individual has the capacity to adjust to any other kind of work. The adjudicator will consider the person’s RFC and age, as well as the level of education and work experience in this determination. If it is found that the person can adjust to other work, then he or she will be found not to be disabled. If it is found that the person cannot adjust to other work, then he or she will be found disabled.
Los Angeles Social Security Disability Attorney
At Disability Advocates, we know how the SSA operates and we use this to help our clients successfully navigate the disability benefits application process. Contact us today.