Are You Disabled? How A Judge Decides Your Social Security Disability Claim

When your claim comes up for hearing, the Social Security Judge will go through a 5 step “sequential evaluation process” to decide whether you meet Social Security’s definition of disability.

Step 1

  • Whether you are working and, if so,
  • Whether the work the claimant is doing constitutes substantial gainful activity (SGA). Substantial Gainful Activity is generally work that brings in over a certain dollar amount per month. In 2013, that amount is $1,040 for non-blind disabled applicants, and $1,740 for blind applicants.

If you are working, your claim will be denied. If you are not working (SGA), the Judge will go to Step 2.

Step 2

  • Whether you have impairment or a combination of impairments that is “severe;” A severe impairment is one that prevents you from engaging in any substantial gainful work.

If your impairment is not “severe”, your claim will be denied. If it is severe, the Judge will go to Step 3.

Step 3

  • Whether your impairment(s) meets the duration requirement- can be expected to result in death, or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months
  • Whether you have an impairment(s) that meets a listed impairment in the Listing of Impairments, or is medically equal in severity to a listed impairment. Social Security’s Listing of impairments contains the most common medical conditions considered to be severe enough to keep an individual from working.

If you match the requirements of a listed impairment, you will qualify for disability automatically, regardless of whether you can actually work or not. If you do not meet a listing, the Judge will go to Step 4.

Step 4

  • Whether you worked in the past, and, if so,
  • The physical and mental demands of your past work, and
  • Whether you can return to past work or perform it as it is generally performed in the national economy

If you can return to past work, you will not qualify for disability. If you cannot return to past work, the Judge will go to Step 5.

Step 5

  • The Judge will determine your RFC (Residual Functional Capacity – what work-related activities you can do despite your disability)
  • The Judge will consider your age, education, the work you have done in the past, whether your skills are transferable to another job, and whether the work you can still do (given your limitations) exists in significant numbers in the economy

If the Judge finds that there are other jobs that you can do, then you are not disabled. If there are no other types of jobs that you can do, you will be granted disability benefits at Step 5.

Social Security law is complex; at Hoffman, Larin and Agnetti, PA we offer a free consultation so that you can learn your rights. There are no fees for representation before the Social Security Administration in disability claims, unless we win. We have offices throughout south Florida in Dade, Broward and Monroe Counties for your convenience. I can be reached at 305-653-5555 to answer your questions.