As you likely know, the Social Security Administration denies about 70 percent of the initial applications it receives for disability benefits. Oregon applicants who receive denied claim notices are frequently bewildered by this and left asking the question: “How does the SSA determine if I am disabled?”
Assuming you meet the basic eligibility requirements (meaning you have earned enough recent work credits in a job covered by Social Security), the SSA will evaluate your application for disability benefits in a five-step process.
The first step is answering the question: “Are you working?” If you aren’t working at all or are earning less than $1,010 a month because a physical or mental impairment is limiting your ability to work, you can answer “No” to this question and move on to step two.
In step two, the SSA asks: “Is your condition severe?” In order to answer “yes” to this question and move on to step three, your condition must interfere with basic work-related activities and must be expected to prevent or severely limit your ability to work for at least one year.
This brings us to step three. Here, the SSA looks at whether your condition is found on its own “official” list of impairments. If it is, the severity of your condition must be at least equal to the level of severity described in the SSA’s listing for that condition. If your condition is not on the list or you have multiple impairments (none of which might be severe enough by itself to qualify you as disabled — the SSA will consider whether your condition or combination of conditions is of equal severity to a medical condition that is on the list.
If the answer is “Yes,” you are automatically considered “disabled” (as the SSA defines the term) and should begin receiving benefits soon. If you do not get approved for disability benefits at step three, don’t despair. Your claim may still be approved after the SSA goes through steps four and five.
We’ll continue this discussion in our next blog post.
Source: Social Security Online, “Disability Planner: How We Decide If You Are Disabled.”