How does Social Security determine if I am disabled?

October 17, 2015


Social Security uses a sequential evaluation process that essentially acts like a flow chart for SSDI and adult SSI cases; meaning if you pass one step, you move on to the next evaluation. The steps are broken down below:


Step 1 - Work

Is the claimant earning enough money working to be considered "substantial gainful activity"? If so, claim is denied. If not, move on to step 2.


Step 2 - Severity

Is the claimant's disability severe enough and meet durational requirements? If not, claim is denied. If so, move on to step 3.


Step 3 - Medical Listings

Does the claimant's disability meet or equal one or more of Social Security's medical listings? If so, claim is approved. If not, move on to step 4.


Step 4 - Previous Work

Can a person with the claimant's disabilities perform the claimant's past work? If so, claim is denied. If not, move on to step 5.


Step 5 - Any Work

Considering the claimant's age, education, and work history, are there any jobs in the national economy the claimant could work? If so, claim is denied. If not, claim is approved



This is obviously a very simplified version of Social Security's evaluation process, but hopefully it is helpful for you in understanding how they approach a claim. For a more complete version, try visiting or check out this report from the United States Government Accountability Office.

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