The Sequential Evaluation Process
The Social Security Administration follows a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether you are a disabled individual for purposes of disability benefits. If it finds that you are disabled or not disabled at a step then the determination is over and it does not go on to the next step. Those five steps are:
1. If you are doing “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) then you are not disabled.
2. If you do not have a “severe” impairment then you are not disabled.
3. If your impairment meets or “equals” one of the impairments described in the Social Security regulations known as the “Listing of Impairments,” and meets a duration requirement, then you are disabled.
4. If you can still do your “past relevant work” (PRW), then your “residual functional capacity” (RFC) shows that you are not disabled.
5. If you can make an adjustment to other work, considering your RFC, age, education, and work experience, then you are not disabled.
However, be careful about the terms identified by quotation marks and the initials that go with some of them. These terms have precise meanings in the law, and these meanings are not necessarily the meanings you would expect.
In summary, there are two main routes to a finding of disability on a Social Security disability application:
- Meeting an impairment described in the Listing of Impairments (Step 3).
- Meeting all the other requirements (Steps 1, 2, 4, and 5).
The five steps result in six ways that you may be found not disabled. That is, you are not disabled if you:
- Are working at the SGA level (Step 1).
- Have no medically determinable impairment (Step 2).
- Have an impairment that does not significantly limit your physical or mental ability to do basic work activities (Step 2).
- Fail to meet the duration requirement (Step 2).
- Are capable of past relevant work (Step 4).
- Are capable of other work (Step 5).
There are a few exceptions:
- Qualifying for Disability Benefits Step 1: Substantial Gainful Activity
- Qualifying for Disability Benefits Step 2: Severity
- Qualifying for Disability Benefits Step 3: Listing of Impariments and Duration Requirement
- Qualifying for Disability Benefits Step 4: Past Relevant Work
- Qualifying for Disability Benefits Step 5: Other Work
- Exceptions to the Five-Step Sequential Evaluation Process