Whether you realize this or not, there is a five step process Social Security uses in order to determine whether or not you are entitled to disability benefits. In one of these steps, it must be determined whether or not your physical or mental condition would be considered "severe." If your condition is severe, then Social Security will move onto the next step in its determination. If your condition is considered non-severe, then your claim will be denied.
One of the ways in which Social Security determines the severity of your physical or mental condition is through your Adult Function Report. After you have filed your initial application for disability benefits or you have filed your reconsideration after being denied the first time, you will receive this report in the mail.
You must take this report very seriously. If your claim does have to go before an Administrative Law Judge, oftentimes what you write in your report will help the judge decide as to whether to deny or approve your benefits. However, if you exaggerate your symptoms, then you could also lose credibility. So, always tell the truth, but also be thorough in your description of how your impairment(s) keep your from working.
Social Security now determines the word "severe" as a term of art. Meaning that there have been enough cases Social Security has processed to know whether or not your impairment keeps you from working.
In order for your condition to be severe, it must significantly limit your ability to do one or more basic work activities. This is now even the law under 20 CFR 404.1521 and 416.921. Basically, your condition must keep you from such things as walking, standing, sitting, pushing or pulling, or lifting objects over a certain weight, seeing, hearing, etc. For mental impairments, you condition must interfere with such things as carrying out and remembering simple instructions, working in coordination with other co-workers, dealing with everyday stress or changes in your routine, or being able to maintain concentration for a certain amount of time, etc.
After reviewing your Adult Function Report, you'll begin to understand why the questions are being asked. You can see how your answers show how your condition(s) interferes with the basic work activities as described above. If you can show, along with good medical records, how your disability keeps you from doing these basic work activities, then you stand a better chance of receiving a favorable decision the first two times you attempt to receive benefits rather than having to schedule a hearing.