The Complex Social Security Disability Process

The process for determining Social Security Disability eligibility can be complex and daunting for many individuals. Fortunately, the lawyers at Judkins Law Firm have more than 45 years of combined legal experience to draw upon. We are prepared to offer you representation and valuable insight into the process you are facing.

The Social Security Administration is required to go through a five-step process in making a disability determination. The process is sequential, which means that the first step is looked at, then the second, and proceeding, if necessary, through the entire five-step process.

  1. Substantial gainful activity? The first step looks at the question of whether the person seeking disability is engaged in "substantial gainful activity," referred to as SGA. A person earning more than a certain amount of money as provided under the Social Security laws is considered to be engaged in substantial gainful activity. In 2014, the monthly amount for SGA is $1070 for nonblind individuals and $1800 for statutorily blind individuals. If an individual is involved in substantial gainful activity, he or she may generally not receive disability benefits.

  2. Are there severe impairments? The second inquiry in the process asks whether the claimant has one or more severe impairments. To be considered severe, the impairment or impairments must significantly limit an ability, either physical or mental, to perform one or more basic activities needed to do most jobs. If the claimant does not have one or more severe impairments, he or she may not receive disability benefits.

  3. Does a "listing" apply? The third area for consideration is whether a person meets a "listing" under the Social Security regulations. If a particular impairment meets or exceeds a definition under the regulations of being severe enough, as provided in the regulations, the person is automatically disabled under the Social Security laws, the five-step process stops at that point, and benefits are awarded.

  4. Can the person do prior relevant work? Step four of the process asks this question: based upon the person's age, education, prior relevant work background, and with the limitations that the person has, can that person perform the jobs that he or she has performed within the past 15 years? The Social Security Administration frequently uses vocational experts to help answer this question. Those experts are expected to have knowledge of jobs in the national and local economies, and to know the requirements of those jobs. The experts are asked to assume a person of the claimant's age, education, prior work background, and limitations. The vocational experts are then asked whether a particular person could perform the relevant jobs that the person used to do. The vocational expert's opinions are considered by the Social Security Administration along with all the other evidence. If the person is found to be able to perform those past jobs, then the person would not be disabled under applicable law. But if the person cannot do that past relevant work, the administration is required to go to the next step.

  5. Can the person perform any work? Step five is the last step and many cases are decided at this final stage in the process. The relevant question at this stage is whether, based upon the person's age, education, prior relevant work background, and with the limitations that the person has, there are significant numbers of jobs in the national or regional economy that this person could perform. If there are jobs in significant numbers, the person would be found to be not disabled. If there are not enough jobs under the regulations that the person can perform, the person would be found to be disabled.

Discuss Your Specific Matter With A Skilled Tennessee Attorney

The foregoing five-step process is a general overview of the process through which the Social Security Administration must go in determining whether a person is disabled. There are many other regulations and other guidelines that are used in making disability determinations. The person that represents you should be very knowledgeable and experienced in disability law.

For a free consultation, you may contact us our Oak Ridge office at 865-685-5967, or you may complete the online contact form for a free evaluation of your claim.