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How do I qualify for Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income benefits?


The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses the Sequential Evaluation Process to determine whether you are qualified to receive Social Security benefits.  It is a five-step decision model used to determine disability according to their rules:

Step 1:  Are you engaged in Substantial Gainful activity?

The requirements of this step are simple.  If you are involved in “substantial gainful employment” you will not qualify for SSD or SSI. Generally speaking, for SSD this means if your earned income average is $1,010.00 a month or more, you are not considered disabled.  For SSI the Federal Benefit Rate is $698.00 per month. “Countable” acts as a direct credit to this amount.  So, if you are substantially gainfully employed or you made too much money to qualify for SSI, the Administration would not proceed on to any further steps.  If you are not working or are earning under these amounts, the SSA proceeds onto the next step.

Step 2:  Is your condition or disability severe?

The SSA will look at the nature of your condition and make determinations concerning how it affects your ability to perform basic work-related activities. Your ability to do work-related activities must be severely limited in order for you to meet the requirements of this step and be present for at least one year.     

Step 3:  Does your condition or disability meet or equal a Listing of Impairments?        

The SSA has created a list of disabilities and requirements called the “Listing of Impairments.”  Each body system and major medical condition is divided into a section and under each section; there are specific requirements that must be met for a person to meet a listing to be considered disabled by the SSA.  Your disability must either meet the requirements laid out in the Listings or be equal to a Listing.  Or, you must have a combination of disabilities that are equal to one or more of those set forth in the Listings. If you meet the requirements here, you are awarded benefits. If your impairments or combination of impairments do not meet or equal any listing or combination of listings, the analysis proceeds to Step 4.

Step 4:  Can you do the work you have previously done?

If there is still some question as to whether or not you are disabled, the SSA will look into your work history over the last fifteen years (prior to the time you claim that your disability began) and try to determine if you can do any of the work you previously did. 

The SSA often looks at the easiest or least strenuous of your previous jobs and tries to determine if your disability or condition would preclude you from carrying out the duties required by that job. You must be incapable of doing any of your previous jobs. If they conclude you can perform your prior work, you will be denied at this step. If there is a finding that you are unable to do any of your “past relevant work” then the decision moves on to Step 5.            

Step 5:  Are you able to do any job?           

Once the SSA has determined you cannot do any of the previous types of work that you did in the past, they then consider whether or not there are any jobs that you can do.  Specifically, they look at all jobs that are available in the US economy and the duties of persons in each of these types of jobs. If there are a sufficient number of jobs that you can do available in the US economy, you will be disqualified at this step. If there are not sufficient jobs that you can do, you qualify at this step. 

Thomas Ledgerwood
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Proprietor Ledgerwood Law Group