Social Security Process/How to qualify

We get a lot of callers asking “How do I qualify for Social Security?”  Great question! All applicants must go through the sequential evaluation process and  I’m going to talk about what that is in this post.

The sequential evaluation process is the process by which Social Security determines if someone is disabled as defined in § 404.1505 of the Code of Federal Regulations.  The first step looks at your work activity, if any. If Social Security finds you are doing substantial gainful activity (this term will be discussed in another post), you will be found not disabled.

The second and third steps of the process look at the medical severity of your impairments.  In the second step, SSA must find that you have impairments which have lasted or will last longer than 12 months.  These impairments can be either physical or mental.  The third step considers whether your impairments meet or equal a “listing.”  Social Security listings are criteria that are used to determine whether you are disabled.  Not all conditions are outlined in the listings and even if you have something that is enumerated in the listings it doesn’t mean you will automatically qualify.  Note: There is something called the Compassionate Allowances which automatically qualifies you for benefits. Sounds great, right? Nope. The conditions on the list get you benefits because it is clear beyond a doubt that if you have one of them you are disabled. (That’s not good)

The fourth step in the process is a determination of what is called your “residual functional capacity” (RFC) and your ability to do your past work.  Social Security considers all jobs you have done in the past 15 years as relevant work.  If you can do any of your past work, you will not be eligible for Social Security benefits.  This is probably a good time to mention that if you feel like you can work but just aren’t able to get hired, you aren’t eligible for Social Security.  They don’t take into account the economy, market conditions or the ability to secure a job.

The fifth and final step looks at what Social Security determined your RFC to be and if that translates into any other jobs in the national and local economy that you would be physical and/or mentally able to do.  For most people, it doesn’t matter if you have ever done that particular job in the past.  A lot goes into determining if you can make an adjustment to other work such as your education, age and work experience. I’ll devote a separate post to this at a later date.

Sometimes I find it helpful to show my clients or potential clients this. (Note: It was prepared by Social Security)  There’s a flow chart on page 6 that shows the process and sometimes it’s easier for people to understand.

That’s the process in a nutshell. I’ll be going into further detail about some of the terms in later posts but please feel free to ask questions along the way. As always, if you have a question that is about your claim specifically, please give us a call and we’ll be happy to help.

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