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Do I Satisfy the SSA’s Definition of Disability?

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5-Step Decision Process for Determining Disability According to the SSA

Unlike other types of disability, there is no partial disability under either SSD or SSI. You are either 100% disabled or not disabled at all. The SSA uses a three-prong test in its definition of disability. In order to be found disabled, it must be determined that as a result of your conditions;

  • You cannot perform your past work.
  • You cannot adjust to other work.
  • Your disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least 12 consecutive months or to result in death.

In making this the determination as to whether or not someone satisfies this definition, the SSA will conduct a 5-step decision-making process.

1. Are you working?

If you are working in 2021 and your earnings average more than $1,310 a month, you generally cannot be considered disabled. This makes sense. How can someone find you unable to work, if you are, in fact, working? If you are not working, the SSA will send your application to the Disability Determination Services (DDS) office. DDS will make the initial determination as to whether or not you are disabled using steps 2-5 below. If you are working, your application for benefits will not even be sent to DDS, no one will even look at your medical records and you will receive an unfavorable decision.

2. Is your condition severe?

You must have a condition(s) that significantly limits your ability to do basic work activities. This includes things like; standing, walking, sitting, lifting, and concentrating. This condition(s) must have lasted or be expected to last 12 consecutive months. If your condition does interfere with basic work-related activities the decisionmaker goes to Step 3. If you condition is not severe, you will be denied at step 2.

3. Do you meet a listing?

The Administration maintains a list of medical conditions that are so severe that, if met, a finding of disability will automatically be made. If your condition is not on the list or if your condition does not exactly meet the listing, the decisionmaker will go to step 4 in the process.

4. Can you perform your past work?

At step 4, a decision will be made as to whether or not your medical condition(s) prevents you from performing any of your past work. If it is found you can perform your past work, you will be denied at step 4, if you are unable to perform your past work, then the decisionmaker will proceed to step 5.

5. Can you do other types of work?

The decisionmaker will finally consider your medical conditions, age, education, past work experience, and any transferable skills you may have to determine whether or not you can perform other work. If not, you will be found disabled. If you can perform other work you are not disabled under the rules of the SSA.

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How Much Can I Expect In SSDI Payments?

You could earn up to $3,148/month in SSDI benefits.

Do I Qualify for Social Security Disability?

Browse our SSDI resource library to find clear answers and determine if you qualify for up to $3,148/month in SSD benefits.

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May 3, 2021

Written by TC Newlin

TC is a disability litigator and one of the managing partners in the Social Security Disability Department at Fleschner, Stark, Tanoos & Newlin. He has had the pleasure of helping thousands of people obtain the benefits they so desperately need.


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