The Social Security Administration’s disability evaluation process

The rules and regulations that govern the Social Security Administration contain some rigid requirements and detailed definitions that can be confusing and frustrating.

Some of the Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky, and North Carolina clients that we see at our Rogersville office want to try to understand the process. Others are happy to let us take the worry of dealing with the Social Security Administration off of their hands and prefer not to have to think about the requirements.

The Social Security Administration’s sequential evaluation process

The Social Security Administration evaluates whether or not you are disabled by using a five-step sequential evaluation process. This is a series of five steps that are followed in a set order.

The steps are:

  1. Are you engaged in “substantial gainful activity”?
  2. Do you have a severe impairment, and does it meet a duration requirement?
  3. Does your impairment meet or equal one of the impairments listed by the Social Security Administration?
  4. Does your “residual functional capacity” allow you to do your “past relevant work”?
  5. Does your “residual functional capacity” allow you to do other work?

The Social Security Administration’s steps 1, 2, and 3

The step one issue is whether or not you are doing ?substantial gainful activity.? When the Social Security Administration uses the phrase ?substantial gainful activity? it means “work,” so the question is whether or not you are working. Furthermore, the work must be “substantial” and “gainful.” By those words the Social Security Administration means that the work must involve significant physical or mental activities, and you must be getting paid for it.

If you are not working, or if the work is not substantial or gainful, then the Social Security Administration moves on to step two.

Step two has two parts. The first part is whether your impairment is sufficiently severe. This part is somewhat redundant because it is also considered in steps 3, 4, and 5. The second part of step two is whether your impairment has lasted long enough. The requirement is that the impairment must last for 12 months (either having already lasted 12 months, or being expected to last for 12 months) or be expected to result in death. This can be a problem for a disability that comes and goes.

If your impairment is severe and passes the duration requirement then the Social Security Administration moves on to step three.

The step three question involves comparing the medical signs and symptoms of your disability to a set of medical signs and symptoms in a “Listing of Impairments” kept by the Social Security Administration.

If your impairment matches one of the impairments in the listings then the Social Security Administration finds that you qualify for disability benefits and the evaluation process is over. If your impairment does not match one of the impairments in the listings then you are not found disabled at this step and the Social Security Administration moves on to steps four and five.

The Social Security Administration’s steps 4 and 5

The step four issue is whether your “residual functional capacity” allows you to do your “past relevant work.” By “residual functional capacity” the Social Security Administration means what you are capable of doing despite the handicap of your disability. Therefore, this step asks whether you can still do the work that you have done in the past, even though you are now disabled.

If you are not able to do the work that you have done in the past then the Social Security Administration moves on to step five.

At step five the Social Security Administration evaluates whether you are able to do any other work, even though you are now disabled, and even though you have not done this type of work in the past.

Get a Rogersville disability lawyer to help you with your Social Security claim

The Social Security Administration’s definitions and rules can be complicated and confusing. Instead of dealing with the Social Security Administration on your own, consider getting the help and guidance of an experienced Social Security disability lawyer.

If you are not already represented by a Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky, or North Carolina Social Security disability lawyer, you may ask for our evaluation of your claim. Give us a brief description of your claim using the form in the right sidebar, or you may e-mail or call our office.

Mark Albert Skelton
Tennessee Social Security disability attorney

Contact me

Law Office of Mark A. Skelton
121 South Depot Street
Rogersville, TN 37857