How to Qualify for Disability

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Social Security uses a strict 5-step process to determine if you qualify for disability. That's true regardless of whether you apply for SSDI or SSI benefits.

If you're questioning how to qualify for disability, you are unlikely to receive benefits if you don't match the criteria listed in the below steps. So let's get to it.

Step 1 - Are you working?

The Social Security Administration looks at whether or not you have Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA). In 2022, SGA reflects earnings of $1,350.00 per month. For blind applicants, it requires earnings of $2,260.00 per month.

In general, the rule applies that if you earn $1,350.00 per month, you do not qualify as disabled. As a result, the SSA’s review of your application stops at this point.

If you are working and earning less than $1,350.00, or $2,260.00 if you are blind, your case will move forward to Step 2 of the analysis; however, your chance of receiving benefits is far less likely.

Step 2 – Is your condition severe?

To be found disabled, you must have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment or a combination of severe impairments. Severity gets determined by how the condition(s) interferes with your ability to perform basic work activities.

The duration of the severe condition MUST: last for 12-months; be expected to last for 12-months; or result in death. You must meet both the severity and duration requirements to move on to the next step.

Step 3 – Does your condition meet the severity of a Listing?

Social Security maintains medical criteria in a listing to determine the severity of an applicant's condition. Listings for physical and mental health conditions include specific, detailed, and stringent criteria. Meeting those criteria involves analyzing the available medical records, relying little on an applicant's subjective complaints or anecdotal history.

If you meet or equal the severity of a Listing and your condition meets the duration requirement defined in Step 2, the SSA qualifies you as disabled.

Should you fail to qualify, the medical reviewer handling your case will develop an x capacity or residual functional capacity (RFC). The RFC defines how they feel your condition limits your ability to perform work activities. Your case will then move onto Step 4, where the SSA uses the RFC to determine your ability to perform work.

Step 4 – Can you perform your past relevant work?

Past relevant work (PRW) includes your work in the last 15 years. In addition, that work meets (SGA) standards, and its duration was long enough for you to have learned how to do the job. However, the SSA determines you as unqualified if you have the residual functional capacity to physically and mentally perform your past relevant work.

If you cannot perform past relevant work or have questions regarding your ability to perform it, the case moves to the final step of the analysis.

Step 5 - Can you make an adjustment to perform work other than your past relevant work?

During this final step, the reviewer determines if you can perform other work. Some things they consider are your:

  • age
  • education
  • vocational history
  • residual functional capacity

The older you are, the less educated, the longer you have performed the same type of work, and the more physically demanding your past relevant work was, are all factors considered in this step.

If you are between the ages of 18-49, and have a high school diploma, the chances of getting disability benefits during the initial application process are unlikely.

The burden of proof that Social Security needs to meet to show you can adjust to and perform other work is minimal. If you are between 50-54, your chances improve slightly but not significantly. It may be beneficial to go over the differences between SSDI and SSI and how they pertain to your situation.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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