An injury or illness does not affect two people in the exact same way. A medical condition could have a significant impact on your life, even though the same diagnosis has little effect on someone else. So when you apply for Social Security Disability, how do they decide if you’re disabled – and therefore eligible for benefits?
The Social Security Administration (SSA) actually uses a five-step process for determining whether an applicant meets the agency’s definition of disabled. Here is a brief explanation of each step.
1. Your current work situation
This is the first thing the SSA considers. If you are currently working and your earnings are above $1,260 a month, the SSA generally will not consider you disabled. If you are not working, or working very little, your application will move to step two.
2. The severity of your medical condition
Social Security Disability Insurance is only for serious, long-term ailments. In order to qualify, the condition has to “significantly limit” your ability to do basic work-related tasks, and must be expected to do so for at least 12 months.
3. Is your condition on the SSA’s list?
The SSA has a list of disabling conditions used for reference. If your condition is on the list, the SSA will likely consider you disabled and eligible for benefits. If your condition is not on the list, they have to compare your current ailment with others on the list. Then it’s on to step four.
4. Your ability to do the same type of work
Does your impairment prevent you from doing the same type of work you had been doing? If not, then you are unlikely to be considered disabled. If it does, then the SSA considers one final question.
5. Can you do any other type of work?
If you cannot do your previous work, the SSA will try to determine if you are able to do another type of job. This will include reviewing your medical condition, age, education, past work experience and work skills. If the SSA believes you can do other work, it will likely deny your disability claim.
This process is not a perfect science. Misinterpretations, missing information or incorrect decisions can result in applicants being wrongly denied. When this happens, it is possible to file an appeal and get your case reconsidered.