Am I Disabled?

Disability claims are decided by a 5-step process

Many people believe that the question of whether someone is disabled is simple. If my doctor says I can’t work, I’m disabled, right? If I have a certain kind of injury or disease, I’m disabled, right? Social Security rules break the definition of “disabled” into a 5-part process known as the sequential analysis. The sequential analysis takes into consideration your physical capacity, age, and skills, then makes an assessment of whether you can work. The result is that for two people with the same injury or illness, one of them may be considered disabled according to the sequential analysis while the other person is not.

Let’s take it step-by-step and see how the sequential analysis operates.

1. First Question: Are you doing substantial gainful activity?

Substantial gainful activity (SGA) is income earned through work of at least $1,000.00 per month. (For blind claimants, the amount is higher). Income through investments and other non-work sources is not counted. If you make more than $1,000.00 per month, there is no level of impairment that will qualify you for benefits. This rule means that for two people with the same illness or injury, one of them may be found disabled, while the other one (who is working, even at a low wage) will not.

2. Second Question: Do you have a severe impairment?

The second and third steps are considered to be the medical components of the analysis. In the second step, the impairment must be a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that results from abnormalities that can be demonstrated by a medically acceptable source. SSA collects medical records, personal statements, and may order tests and evaluations to determine if your impairment is severe. A medically acceptable source is a medical doctor, osteopaths, licensed psychologist, and the like. Acupuncturists, massage therapists, herbalists, and similar practitioners are not considered acceptable medical sources. To be severe, a condition or impairment must have lasted or be expected to last for one year or more or result in death. A person who experiences a series of temporary impairments, may not “tack,” that is, add the cumulative duration of all the impairments together to meet the one year minimum.

3. Third Question: Does the impairment meet a listing?

The Code of Federal Regulations contains a list of impairments that are so serious that if an applicant can demonstrate he or she suffers one of them, the claim will be granted without the claimant having to demonstrate the steps 4 and 5 (the vocational factors). Many claimants’ disabling conditions do not meet or equal one of these listings. They may still qualify for benefits, by continuing to the next two steps of the analysis.

4. Fourth Question: Can you do your prior job?

Steps 4 and 5 of the Sequential Analysis are known as the vocational factors. SSA considers whether you have had to leave your past employment because of your impairments. SSA considers whether adaptations or modifications could enable you to perform your past work. If your impairments make it so you cannot lift, carry, sit, stand, bend, concentrate, think to a sufficient degree to perform your past work, the analysis of your claim continues to the next step.

5. Fifth Question: Can you do any other job?

SSA considers your residual functional capacity (RFC), that is, whether your physical and mental ability, in light of your age, education, and work experience, enable you to perform other work. Your capacity to perform physical and mental tasks is considered your residual functional capacity (RFC). These tasks include lifting, carrying, sitting, standing, thinking, concentrating, speaking, etc. Social Security considers whether jobs exist at your RFC level in sufficient numbers in the national economy. If there is no other work that can be performed, your application for benefits should be approved.