Five Step Evaluation Process

The Social Security Administration uses a five step evaluation process for determining if an individual adult is disabled.  The steps are sequential.  A person can be found disabled at step three of the process and the evaluation would end.

Step One

Are you working?  If so, is your work activity substantial gainful activity.  If so, then you do not qualify for benefits.  Click here for blog post regarding a myth in this area.

Step Two

A person must have a medically determinable impairment(s) in order to seek Social Security benefits.  The impairment(s) must be severe.

Step Three

Does the claimant’s medical impairment(s) meet or equal a listing.  The listings are medical conditions, both physical and mental, determined by the Social Security Administration to be severe enough to find a person disabled.  In order to be found disabled with a listing, your condition must meet all of the requirements for a particular listing or equal it.  So if you have a condition, but a symptom of yours is not listed in the listing, but is equally disabling as what is listed, then you could be found to equal the listing.

Step Four

If a claimant does not have an impairment or impairments that meet or equal a listing does not mean they are not disabled.  At step four, the SSA will determine if the claimant can perform any of their past work.  The SSA looks at a claimant’s work for 15 years prior to their alleged disability.   If a claimant’s residual functional capacity is such that they could return to any job they held in the previous 15 years, then they are not disabled.  Many people ask me what if they cannot get that job back.  The evaluation is not one that takes into account whether you could secure a job with a particular employer, but the evaluation based upon the notation of whether you can perform the essential functions of a particular job.

Step Five

Can you perform any other work in the national economy in light of your residual functional capacity and your age, education and work experience?  If so, then you are not disabled.  This is where the Medical-Vocational Guidelines are applied.