FIVE Steps to Social Security Disability Determination

Social Security DisabilityFIVE Steps to Your Social Security Disability Determination

1. STEP ONE: Are you performing substantial gainful activity (working)?

What does “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) mean? This means that you have worked and earned money during the time prior to your disability.

  • Substantial: Work that requires significant physical or mental activities.
  • Gainful: work that you do for pay or profit. $1170 or more per month (in 2017) is considered gainful.
    • For blind persons, $1950 or more per month (in 2017) is considered gainful.
    • Self-employed persons have different SGA requirements to satisfy.

If your answer is “no,” go to STEP TWO.

2. STEP TWO: Is your disabling condition severe?

What does “severe” mean?

  • Severe means that your condition interferes with your ability to function independently, appropriately, effectively, and on a sustained basis.
  • Your condition is considered “non-severe” if it does not significantly limit your ability to do basic work activities.

If your answer is “yes,” go to STEP THREE.

3. STEP THREE: Does your condition meet the requirements of SSA’s “Listing of Impairments?”

Here are some of the categories of common disabling conditions recognized by SSA:

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The medical criteria required to demonstrate these disabling conditions are located in the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Ask your disability attorney to

provide you with a copy of the medical criteria that is required for your specific disabling condition.

Durational Requirement: In addition to meeting the guidelines discussed above, your condition must be expected to last at least 12 consecutive months, or expected to end in death.

If your answer at this point is “yes,” then you probably meet the definition of “disabled” for the purposes of Social Security Disability or SSI. If your answer is “no,” then go to STEP 4.

4. STEP FOUR: Are you able to perform work that you have done in the past?

Do you have the mental or physical ability to perform the tasks required in previous jobs, despite your disabling condition?

To determine this, you will:

  • Identify the mental and physical requirements for all of the jobs that you have held in the past 15 years; and
  • Ask your doctor to complete a form explaining your medical diagnosis and limitations; then
  • Compare your current limitations to the tasks required in your former jobs.

If your answer is “no,” then go to STEP FIVE.

5. STEP FIVE: Can you perform any other work, considering your age, education, and work experience?

This step takes into account your age, education, skills and experience, and the level of exertion that you are capable of performing.

Many claimants don’t realize that step 5 looks at whether you can do ANY OTHER WORK – not just the work you have been trained for. In other words, can you sit down and work at the easiest possible desk job for 8 hours per day, 40 days per week?

If your answer to STEP FIVE is “no,” then you probably meet the definition of “disabled” for the purposes of Social Security Disability or SSI.

Please note: You must also meet the Work Credit requirements for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or the resource limits for Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Originally published: August 19, 2014 at

 Last updated: October 4, 2017 at 8:47 am

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