social security disability claim

What Is the Five-Step Process SSA Uses to Determine Disability?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) must first determine that an individual has a total disability before approving them for the receipt of disability benefits. This determination is made through a five-step process in which an applicant is reviewed to be disabled or not at each step. The central, defining aspect of disability for the purpose of social security disability benefits is whether or not an applicant retains the ability to work. Let us go through the five-step process the SSA uses to determine disability.

What Is the Five-Step Process SSA Uses to Determine Disability?

The first step is determining whether the disability applicant is currently engaging in substantial gainful activity (SGA). The amount which constitutes SGA changes year to year. If an applicant is working and generates an average monthly income exceeding the SGA level, then he or she will not be found to be disabled. If the applicant makes less, then the SSA moves on to step two of the determination process.

The second step is an evaluation as to whether the applicant has a severe physical or mental condition. The applicant must have a medically determinable impairment, either physical, mental, or both, that is both severe and meets the durational requirement. A severe condition is one that prohibits the most basic of work-related functions. The durational requirement is that the condition must be projected to last at least 12 months or be terminal. If either of these criteria is not met, then the individual will not be found to be disabled. If both are met, then the SSA will move on to step three of the process.

The third step of the process involves a determination of whether the applicant’s medical condition either meets the severity of a social security disability listing or is found to be equivalent to such a listing. In the SSA’s blue book, there is a list of medically determinable physical and mental impairments and criteria that must be met in order for a listing to be satisfied. An individual’s condition must either meet one such listing or be found to be the equivalent to such a listing in order for the SSA to move on to step 4 of the process.

Prior to moving on to step 4, the residual functional capacity (RFC) of the individual will be determined. This is an analysis of the individual’s ability to participate in and retain full-time work. In step 4 of the determination process, the SSA looks to whether the applicant can still perform any of his or her past relevant work (PRW). This involves lining up the applicant’s RFC alongside his or her PRW to see if the applicant retains the ability necessary to participate in past jobs. If the applicant is unable to do so, then the SSA moves on to the final step of the disability determination process.

The last step, step 5, asks the question of whether the individual can adjust to any other kinds of work. A number of factors, such as age, work experience, education, and training, as well as the applicant’s RFC are considered in this determination. If it is found that the applicant cannot adjust to any other work, he or she is determined to be disabled.

Arizona Disability Attorney

The disability determination process can be complex and hinges greatly on the information you provide to the SSA. At Roeschke Law, we assist in presenting the strongest case to the SSA so that you can access those disability benefits which you seek. We are not only here to help you understand the Social Security disability process, but also to successfully navigate the process. Contact us today.