The Social Security Administration has a five step sequential process in place that every ALJ (Administrative Law Judge) must use to evaluate each claim they are assigned.
The first step is to determine if the claimant is working at a level above what the SSA deems acceptable to still qualify for benefits. Substantial gainful activity, or SGA, is work activity for a profit that is defined by a certain gross monthly income level. If a person is working full time, or at a level above SGA, despite how severe their impairment may be, they will not be found disabled.
The second step in the process is as follows: The ALJ must determine if the claimant has a severe impairment or a combination of severe impairments. Severe, for this step, is defined as an impairment(s) that significantly limits the person’s ability to perform basic work activity.
In the third step, the ALJ must consider whether the claimant’s impairments meet or medically equal any of the listings of impairments found in the ‘Listings of Impairments’ book. If the claimant’s impairments meet the listing level of severity and duration, then the claimant is disabled. If not, the ALJ must determine what kinds of limitations exist from the impairments the claimant suffers from and assign an RFC level of work, or at what physical and mental capacity could the person still manage despite the impairments.
The fourth step is the one in which the ALJ must decide if, with the impairments and limitations already decided at step four, the claimant can do the same type of work they have done in the past. If they can, they are not disabled. If they cannot do their past work the ALJ proceeds to the last step.
The final step in this process is deciding if the claimant can do any other form of competitive full time work with the limitations already considered above. If the ALJ does find that you are able to some form of competitive full time work, even with your limitations, it is likely that you will be denied.
At each level, many variables can come into play. This is one of the many reasons why it is so important to have an experienced representative to assist you through the process. If you are interested in learning more of what Jan Dils Attorneys at Law can do for you, give us a call today for a free consultation. 1-877-526-3457.