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The Five Steps to a Social Security Disability Determination

Once you have been initially denied Social Security benefits, and your request for reconsideration has been denied, you should request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge of the Social Security Administration.  Approximately sixty days after the hearing, the Judge will issue a written decision explaining why she did or did not find you disabled.  In making this decision she will utilize the five-step sequential process below:

  • At Step 1, the judge must determine whether you are engaged in substantial gainful activity.  Substantial gainful activity equates to earning roughly $1,000.00 a month.  If the judge finds that you are substantially and gainfully employed, you are not disabled.  If you are not substantially and gainfully employed, the analysis moves on to Step 2.
  • At Step 2, the judge must determine whether you have a medically determinable impairment that is severe, or a combination of impairments that is severe.  You must show that the severe impairment has or will last for at least 12 months.  An impairment is severe if it significantly limits your ability to perform basic work activities.  If the judge finds that your impairment is severe, the analysis moves on to Step 3.
  • At Step 3, the judge must determine whether your impairment or combination of impairments is of a severity that meets or medically equals the criteria of an impairment listed in the Social Security Act.  There are certain impairments or combination of impairments listed in the Act that are deemed disabling.  If you meet one of these listings, the analysis stops and the Judge should find you disabled.  If you do not meet one of the listings, the analysis continues on to Step 4.
  • At Step 4, the Judge first has to determine your residual functional capacity.  Your residual functional capacity is your ability to do physical and mental work activities on a sustained basis despite limitations from your impairments.  Once the Judge has determined your functional residual capacity, she must then decide whether or not you can perform any relevant work that you have performed within the last 15 years.  If the Judge finds that you are able to perform past relevant work, the analysis stops and you will probably not be found disabled.  If the Judge finds that you cannot perform past relevant work, she will move on to Step 5.
  • Lastly at Step 5, the Judge must decide whether or not you are able to do any other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy when considering your residual functional capacity, your age, your education and your work experience.  If the Judge finds that you are unable to perform any other work, you should be found to be eligible for Social Security benefits.

If you were denied, Social Security benefits and or you are thinking about applying for Social Security benefits and have questions about the process, please contact our firm to schedule an appointment with one of our Social Security attorneys at Hoffman DiMuzio.

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