Social Security uses a 5-step analysis process when evaluating whether or not an individual’s medical condition will establish eligibility for disability benefits. With one exception, noted below, each step represents a “gateway” that must be passed in order to proceed. If you have any questions about some of the terms used in this note, please visit O’Brien & Feiler’s online glossary.
Question 1: Are you performing “Substantial Gainful Activity”?
The mere fact that you may be working does not necessarily damage your case, however, there is a minimum threshold of gross (pre-tax) monthly earnings that must not be exceeded, or your claim will be denied. If you earn less that this, or are working in a sheltered environment, proceed to Step 2.
Question 2: Is there a severe impairment that has prevented (or WILL prevent) you from working for 12 or more months?
This is a fairly straightforward question that must be answered in order to proceed to Step 3. Because a crucial component of the decision to grant disability benefits relates to the medical status of the Claimant, medical records are the currency of the kingdom when passing this portion of the analysis. If the answer to Step 2 is “Yes”, proceed to Step 3.
Question 3: Do the impairments “meet a listing” in the Social Security Blue Book?
Social Security publishes the “Blue Book“, which contains a number of medical conditions and their symptoms which may be used to establish disability. “Meeting a Listing” by proving a medical condition will end the Social Security application process with an award of benefits. If a listing is not met, continue to Step 4.
Question 4: Can you perform the duties of your “past relevant work”?
Social Security will examine the latest 15 years of your work history with looking at the physical and mental requirements of your past relevant work. This analysis will be used to determine whether your condition would prevent the performance of this job. If the answer is yes, then proceed to Step 5. If you are able to perform your past relevant work, the analysis ends with denial.
Question 5: Do your past work, age, education, and residual functional capacity render you disabled?
Social Security will now look to factors such as your age, education, work experience, and “residual functional capacity” (sedentary, light, medium, or heavy work) in order to determine whether or not you can perform other substantial gainful activity. If you are unable adapt to different work with your condition, then benefits will be granted. The Vocational Grids help inform this decision.
For more information or a free consultation for Georgia residents, please contact O’Brien & Feiler today!