The 5-Step Sequential Evaluation
SSA uses the following 5-step Sequential Evaluation to determine whether your disability qualifies you for SSDI or SSI benefits. This evaluation process applies whether your impairment is physical or mental.
Step 1: Are you working?
If you are working, or have worked since the date you say your impairment began, earning more than $1,090 per month ($1820 per month if you are blind), you generally cannot be considered disabled. If you are not earning at this level, then SSA proceeds to Step 2.
Step 2: Is your condition “severe?”
Your condition must “significantly interfere with basic work-related activities” for your claim to be considered. If it does not, SSA will find that you are not disabled. As a practical matter, “severity” is not a high hurdle and few claims are denied at this step.
Step 3: Is your condition found in the list of disabling impairments?
SSA maintains a list of impairments for each of the major body systems. (See the list here.) Each listing includes specific, technical criteria. If you meet the criteria for an impairment in the list (known as “meeting a listing“), then you are deemed to be disabled. If your condition does not meet the criteria for an impairment on the list, SSA may determine that your impairment is of equal severity to one on the list (known as “equaling a listing“). If you meet or equal a listing, then you will be found disabled. If not, then the analysis proceeds to Step 4.
Step 4: Can you perform the work you did previously?
If your impairment does not meet or equal the criteria for an impairment on the list, then SSA next determines whether it interferes with your ability to perform any of the jobs that you performed during the previous 15 years. If you are found to be able to perform that work, your claim will be denied. If you are nots, SSA proceeds to Step 5.
Step 5: Can you do any other type of work?
If you are unable to perform your past work, SSA evaluates if you are able to make adjustments enabling you to perform other work. At this step, your medical condition as well as your age, education, past work experience and any transferable skills you may have are considered. Generally, SSA considers individuals over the age of 55 to be unable to make the adjustment to other types of work. If SSA determines that you cannot make an adjustment to other work, your claim will be approved. If not, your claim will be denied.
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