How does the SSA Determine Social Security Disability?

The SSA uses a five-step process to decide entitlement to Social Security Disability or SSI.

Are you working?

If you are working and your earnings average more than a certain amount each month, you generally will not be considered disabled. The amount you can earn changes each year. If you are not working, or your monthly earnings average the current amount or less, then SSA looks at your medical condition.

Is your medical condition “severe”?

Your medical condition must significantly limit your ability to do basic work activities for at least one year. If your medical condition is not that severe, SSA will not consider you disabled. If your condition is that severe, the SSA goes on to step three.

Is your medical condition on the List of Impairments?

The state agency has a List of Impairments that describes medical conditions that are considered so severe that they automatically mean that you are disabled.  If the severity of your medical condition meets or equals that of a listed impairment, the SSA will decide that you are disabled. If it does not, the SSA goes on to step four.

Can you do the work you did before?

At this step, the SSA decides if your medical condition prevents you from being able to do the work you did before. If it does not, the SSA will decide that you are not disabled. If it does, the SSA goes on to step five.

Can you do any other type of work?

If you cannot do the work you did in the past, the SSA looks to see if you would be able to do other work. It evaluates your medical condition, your age, education, past work experience and any skills you may have that could be used to do other work. If you cannot do other work, then you will be found disabled.  If not, your claim will be denied.

How does Social Security define disability?

Social Security defines “disability” as the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or has lasted or can be expected to last for continuous period of not less than 12 months.”


If you need more information about a Social Security Disability/SSI, personal injury, EEOICPA, long or short-term disability, VA disability, Railroad Retirement Board disability, or a workers compensation matter, please contact the Law Offices of Tony Farmer and John Dreiser for a free case evaluation. We can be reached at (865) 584-1211 or (800) 806-4611 or through our website. Our office handles claims throughout East Tennessee.




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