How does the SSA decide if you qualify for disability benefits?

On Behalf of | Nov 30, 2021 | Social Security Disability

The path to Social Security disability benefits is a lengthy and complex one, with several factors affecting everything from your eligibility to how much and for long you will receive benefits. If you sustain a disability that renders you unable to work, it is important that you understand the application process and what all goes into the Social Security Administration’s decision-making process.

According to the SSA Disability handbook, the administration uses a five-step evaluation process to determine if an applicant has a disability. The process consists of answering five questions.

Are you able to work?

If you continue to work despite your condition, and if your annual monthly earnings total more than a certain amount, you will unlikely qualify for disability benefits. The SSA issues SSD benefits to individuals who are unable to work or to earn a livable wage because of their injuries.

Is your medical condition “severe?”

If you cannot work, or if your monthly earnings are less than the qualifying amount, the SSA will then consider the severity of your injury or illness. Is your condition severe enough to substantially lift your ability to engage in basic work activities, such as walking, standing, lifting, sitting and remembering? If so, will the condition persist for at least one year? If your medical condition is not severe, the agency will reject your application.

Does your medical condition make the SSA’s list?

The SSA has a list of medical conditions that qualify for disability benefits. The administration considers these conditions severe enough in nature that they always prevent individuals from engaging in any type of gainful activity, regardless of work experience, age or education. Within each listing, the SSA also outlines the evidence and criteria necessary to satisfy a listing. If your condition either meets the defining criteria of a listed condition or if it is at least “medically equal” to a listing’s criteria, it qualifies you for disability benefits. If your condition does not qualify under the step, the agency will move on to step four.

Can you engage in the work you did before?

In this stage of the process, the administration will determine whether your condition prohibits you from carrying out the responsibilities of any of your former positions. If it does not, the agency may determine that you do not have a qualifying disability.

Can you do any other type of work?

If you cannot fulfill the responsibilities of any of your past positions, the SSA will then decide whether you can engage in any other type of work despite your condition. In making its decision, the agency will consider your age, previous work experience, education and skillset. If you cannot do any other work, you may qualify for benefits.

Qualifying for SSDI benefits is not easy. To increase your odds of receiving approval, seek help with the application.

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