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How Social Security Determines Disability

Posted on December 13, 2022  

Under the Social Security Act, "disability" is defined as an impairment (medical
condition) that has lasted or is expected to last 12 or more consecutive months. Note that you do
not have to wait a year to file for disability alter you stop working since the law contemplates
impairments that are"expected" to last 12 months. Social Security determines if you are
disabled by using a five-step sequential evaluation process. Those steps are:

  1. Are you working? As noted elsewhere in this blog section, Social Security
    calls work "substantial gain activity (SGA)" which is defined, for 2023, as grossing more than
    $1,470.00 a month. SGA is computed on gross earnings, before taxes are deducted, and not take-
    home or net pay. Therefore, if you are working and grossing more than the SGA amount, you
    will be denied at step One, and the disability evaluation process will proceed no further.
  2. Is your medical condition "severe?" Step Two is generally known as the
    durational step because your medical condition will fail at Step Two if your impairment is not
    expected to last 12 or more months in a row. Examples of impairments that fail at Step Two are
    things like a broken arm or seasonal asthma since these conditions generally resolve within a
  3. Does your impairment or combination of impairments meet a Listing
    under the Listings of Impairments? The Listings of Impairments are regulations promulgated by
    Social Security containing specific medical diagnostic criteria. If your medical records document
    al of the findings of a particular Listing, you will be found disabled and awarded benefits and the
    process will stop here at Step Three.
  4. Can you perform your past relevant work? The word "relevant" in this
    context means work you performed within the last 15 years. IfSocial Security concludes that
    your medical impairments do not preclude you from performing any of the jobs you held within
    the past 15 years then you will be found not disabled.
  5. Can you perform any other work? Social Security takes administrative
    notice of 1,600 sedentary and light unskilled jobs that can be performed without requiring any
    special skill, experience or training. These are not jobs that you have necessarily ever heard of,
    but are jobs found ni the Dictionary of Occupational Titles which Social Security refers ot at Step
    Five. You will be found not disabled if Social Security determines you retain the functional
    capacity to perform any of these jobs.

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