Application and Eligibility

Application & Eligibility for Disability & Social Security

In order to be awarded Social Security disability benefits, you must establish that you are, in fact, disabled. However, as is often the case when dealing with the Social Security Administration, this seemingly straightforward statement is deceptively complicated. The Lansing disability lawyers at Med Law Associates PC will walk you through the disability determination process step by step.

Determining Disability

Disability determination is done through a process referred to as the sequential evaluation process. This is a series of five “steps” that are followed in set order to decide whether or not you are disabled, as defined by the law. If Social Security can find that you are is disabled or not disabled at a given step, it makes its decision and it does not move to the next step   These steps are as follows. 

Step 1.   Are you working?  At the first step, it considers your work activity.   If you are  doing substantial gainful activity (SGA), it  will find that you are not disabled.  In general, at this step, it considers how much you are earning. 

Step 2.   Do you have a severe impairment?   At the second step, Social Security considers the severity of your impairment(s). If you do not have a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment that has lasted, or is expected to last, 12 months or end in death, it will find that you are not disabled. Your condition is severe if it has more than a slight impact on your ability to work.  Your condition is “medically determinable” if it can be diagnosed or established by medically acceptable diagnostic tools, tests or techniques.  If the answer to this question is “no”, the inquiry does not go on to Step 3 and the claim is denied.

Step 3.  Do you have a Listed Impairment?   At the third step, Social Security considers whether or not you have an impairment(s) that meets or equals one of the conditions included in its Listing of Impairments and meets the duration requirements.  If it does, Social Security will find that you are disabled.   Most claimants do not qualify at this step.

Step 4.   Can you still do your past work?   At the fourth step, Social Security considers your residual functional capacity and your past relevant work. Your impairment(s) must prevent you from doing your past relevant work.  If you can still do your past relevant work (work you performed in the past 15 years), they will find that you are not disabled.

Step 5.  Is there other work you can do?   At the fifth and last step, Social Security considers vocational factors such as your residual functional capacity (what you can still do), your age, education, and work experience to see if you can make an adjustment to other work. If you can make an adjustment to other work, they will find that you are not disabled.   If you cannot, they will find that you are disabled.  

In our experience, it is Step 5 that gives one the greatest opportunity to show that someone is disabled. Vocational factors come into play when you do not have a physical or mental condition that matches the requirements for a medical listing in Social Security’s Listing of Impairments. Although your condition may not be severe enough to qualify you for Social Security Disability benefits under the Listing of Impairments, your application can still be approved if you have a severe disability that prevents you from working once all factors are considered.   In this case, other factors, including your age, education, past work and residual functional capacities are considered to determine if you are able to perform substantial gainful activity in the workplace. 

Also considered at this point, are other limitations which  might prevent you from performing various basic work functions and attending to your job throughout the workday.   (Examples of these are walking, standing, sitting, lifting, pushing, pulling, reaching, carrying or handling; seeing, hearing, and speaking; understanding, carrying out, and remembering simple instructions; use of judgment, responding appropriately to supervision, coworkers, and usual work situations).   The ability to be at work regularly is also considered if problems with attendance are due to an established medical impairment.

If you can prove significant limitation in any of these areas, you may be found disabled even though you did not meet the stringent requirements of the Listing of Impairments.  

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