What is the five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is disabled?

What is Social Security’s five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether an individual is disabled?

To decide whether you are disabled, the Social Security Administration (SSA) use a step-by-step process involving five questions. [Note: for a visual diagram of the five-step process, scroll to the bottom of this page]. The steps are:

1. Are you working?

If you are working in 2013 and your earnings average more than $1,040 a month, you generally cannot be considered disabled because you are considered to be engaging in Substantial Gainful Employment.

If you are not working, SSA goes to Step 2.

2. Is your condition “severe”?

Your condition must interfere with basic work-related activities for your claim to be considered further. If it does not so interfere, Social Security will find that you are not disabled.

If your condition does interfere with basic work-related activities, SSA goes to Step 3.

3. Is your condition found in the list of disabling conditions?

For each of the major body systems, SSA maintains a list of medical conditions that are so severe they automatically qualify you for disability. If your condition is not on the list, Social Security has to decide if it is of equal severity to a medical condition that is on the list. If it is, SSA will find that you are disabled.

If it is not, then SSA goes to Step 4.

Note: Social Security has two initiatives designed to expedite its processing of new disability claims:

Compassionate Allowances:

Certain cases that usually qualify for disability can be allowed as soon as the diagnosis is confirmed. Examples include acute leukemia, Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) and pancreatic cancer.

Quick Disability Determinations:

Social Security uses sophisticated computer screening to identify cases with a high probability of allowance.

4. Can you do the work you did previously?

If your condition is severe but not at the same or equal level of severity as a medical condition on the list, then Social Security must determine if it interferes with your ability to do the work you did previously. If it does not, your claim will be denied.

If it does, Social Security proceeds to Step 5.

Additional information about Step 4.

5. Can you do any other type of work?

If you cannot do the work you did in the past, Social Security will look see if you are able to adjust to other work.

Social Security considers your medical conditions and your age, education, past work experience and any transferable skills you may have. If you cannot adjust to other work, your claim will be approved.

If you can adjust to other work, your claim will be denied.

Additional information about Step 5.

Here is a diagram visual of the five-step sequential evaluation process: