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Social Security Disability Claims Process: The 5-Step Sequential Evaluation Process

In the disability determination process, there are a series of steps that must be considered by DDS, the SSA, an ALJ, or the Federal Court, whichever is applicable at any particular stage. These steps, which make up the Sequential Evaluation Process, are used to determine whether or not an individual is entitled to Social Security Disability benefits. If at any point in the process, a person meets the criteria of one of the steps he is either awarded or adjudication moves to the next step, depending on which one he is currently at. Conversly, if he does not meet the criteria of even one of the steps, he is denied. The Sequential Evaluation Process proceeds in the following order: Step 1: Is the claimant engaged in SGA (Substantial Gainful Activity)? SGA refers to a certain amount of money that a person makes from working. In 2012, the SGA threshold is $1010 per month for a non-blind individual and $1,690 per month for a blind individual. If one makes over $1010 per month, then that individual will be denied at Step 1. However, if he makes $1010 or less, the adjudicator will move on to Step 2. Step 2: Is the impairment or combination of impairments severe? The SSA considers an impairment or combination of impairments to be severe if it significantly affects an individual’s ability to work. That is, does it cause such severe physical or mental limitations that one is unable to work on a sustained basis. If your impairments are determined to be not severe, the SSA will deny your claim. If they are severe, then they proceed to Step 3. Step 3: Does the claimant meet or equal a listing in the Listing of Impairments? The Listing of Impairments contains impairments from every body system. If a person meets the criteria established in a particular listing, or if the impairments are equivalent in severity to one of the listings, than that individual is awarded. If a person does not meet or equal a listing, he is denied at Step 3. Step 4: Can a claimant do his prior work? If an individual can do his prior job the claim is denied, because the SSA assumes that the impairment must not be severe (as defined in Step 2). If he is unable to perform his prior work, adjudication continues to Step 5. Step 5: Can a claimant do any other kind of work? If an individual possesses skills that can be transferred to another job, possibly one that is less physically or mentally demanding, then he is denied. If it is deemed that the claimant does not possess transferable skills that would allow him to perform another job, he is awarded.