When you apply for Social Security Disability benefits your case will generally be evaluated through a five step sequential disability evaluation process. Disability Determination Services (DDS) uses these steps to determine whether a claimant has a qualifying disability; once a determination for disability qualification is made this particular evaluation ends.
The five steps are outlined below, along with information about what is considered at each step.
Step one: This step examines your work history and answers the question as to whether or not you have engaged in substantial gainful activity (SGA). If you have not worked in over 12 months you meet this criterion in regards to duration. However, the DDS will also review your symptoms to determine if the severity of the disability actually prevented SGA or if you simply chose not to engage in SGA.
Step two: This step looks at the severity of your impairment. Duration will again be factored in and your impairment needs to meet the minimum 12 month criterion. The impairment needs to be considered medically severe by the DDS. As by definition, a medically severe impairment would prevent you from engaging in SGA.
Step three: This step considers if your impairment meets a listing in the impairment manual or if your impairment could be constituted as medically equal to an existing listing. If a claim makes it successfully through the first two steps and successfully meets a listing, it meets the criteria for a disability. If it does not meet a listing it goes on to the next steps.
Step four: This step examines whether or not your impairment prevents performance of past relevant work (PRW). The DDS reviews your impairment to determine if you are capable of performing PRW, either to the extent that you did previously or to a comparable degree.
Step five: The final step reviews your impairment to determine if you can transition into another form of work. The DDS considers your age, education and work history in addition to your current abilities with the impairment.
If you are considered not disabled within the steps of this evaluation and your claim is thus denied you typically have the option to appeal. You may have a valid disability claim, but perhaps your evidence or documentation was lacking. Your denial letter would give you information on why your claim was not accepted. In most cases the appeal window is 60 days so it can be wise to not procrastinate.