What it Means to be Disabled -According to Social Security Standards
First, your doctor cannot declare you disabled. Further, any conclusory statement by your physician without proper medical evidence to substantiate such a claim will be ignore by the Social Security Administration. If you wish to have your doctor participate in your Social Security disability case, make sure he or she documents your physical or mental limitations within your medical records.
In order for the Social Security Administration to find you disabled, there is a sequential 5-step process every case must undergo. In other words, you have to successfully move past each step before you can go to the other, and if you fail at any of them (except Step 3), then your case will be denied.
It's important to understand these steps, so that you can better prepare for your case.
Step 1: Are you working? And if you are, are you engaging in Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)?
The first thing SSA will do before your case is transferred to the state disability determination service (DDS), is to see if you are still working. If you are working, then SSA will make a determination as to whether you are engaging in SGA. What this means first and foremost, is whether or not you are making above the statutory amount allowed for a claimant to still work and apply for disability benefits. After that determination is made, SSA will look even closer to see if your work is gainful in nature. Meaning, are you engaging in basic work activity that is essential for work within a competitive work environment? If you are, then you will fail at Step 1, and your case will be immediately denied before ever going to the state Disability Determination Service (DDS).
Step 2: Is your condition severe enough to keep you from engaging in basic work activities?
In order for your condition to be considered severe, your impairment or combination of impairments has to be expected to last for at least one year, has already lasted for one year, or will lead to your death. Also, these impairments must substantially interfere with your ability to complete basic work activities. What are basic work activities ? -This is your ability to sit, stand, lift and carry, kneel, crouch, etc. It is also your ability to mentally stay on task and concentrate, interact with others, and be a reliable employee within a competitive work environment. If your impairment(s) meet this requirement, then they will be considered severe and you will be allowed to move on to the next step.
Step 3: Does your condition meet a Medical Listing?
We won't spend too much time on this one. But, if your condition is so severe that it would meet a medical listing (the definition of an impairment as prescribed by SSA), and you are not engaging in SGA, and your condition is expected to last for at least one year or lead to your death, then your case will be approved at Step 3.
Here's the only hitch to this step: Most people applying for benefits will not meet a medical listing. Therefore, they are allowed to move on to Step 4.
Step 4: Are you capable of returning to any past relevant work?
SSA (through DDS) looks to see what work you have done within the last 15 years. This work has to rise to the level of SGA in order for it to be counted. Thus, if there is a determination that even despite your impairments, you are capable of returning to any job within the last 15 years (you performed at SGA), then your case will be denied. If there is a determination that you are unable to return to past relevant work, then you are allowed to move to Step 5.
Step 5: Is there any other job within the national economy you can still perform even despite your impairments?
If you have successfully overcome Steps 1 through 4, then there is a determination if there are still some types of jobs within the national economy you are still capable of performing. SSA will look at all your impairments and then make a determination as to whether there is still work available for your to perform. By and far, the vast majority of claimants fail at this step. This is why there are so many denials for Social Security disability benefits. SSA does not take into consideration that such work would not be immediately available within your area. These are jobs with substantial numbers within the national economy. Thus, if you live in a small town and no such jobs exist, that is irrelevant for Social Security disability. If there is a job or jobs existing in substantial numbers within the national economy, then SSA believes you should be able to find such work someplace else besides where you are presently living. The bottom line is this: If SSA believes you are capable of performing an unskilled, sit-down job on a consistent basis, then your case will be denied. If you have passed all the other steps and there is a determination there are no other jobs you are capable of performing, then your case will be approved.
Therefore, it is important to remember just having an impairment is not enough to receive disability benefits. You have to pass all these steps (except Step 3) in order to be found disabled. Before you decide to file for disability benefits, it's best you understand how and if your case will be approved. The process is often long and arduous, best to prepare early in order to give yourself the bast chance at success.
We help claimants throughout the United States seeking their Social Security disability benefits. If you need to speak with us, please feel free to contact our office at: (888) 780-9125.