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Do I Qualify For SSDI Benefits? The 5 Step Sequential Process blog header image

Do I Qualify For SSDI Benefits? The 5 Step Sequential Process

If you are unable to work you may be wondering if you qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses a 5 step sequential process to determine who qualifies for disability benefits and who does not. It is important to understand their qualification requirements, as every applicant must follow the process to have a successful claim. 

What is a Sequential Process? 

A sequential process means that you must pass each step in their sequential order. If you do not pass step one, you cannot move onto step two. Social Security’s qualification process for SSDI is a sequential five step process. In order to qualify for SSDI benefits you must meet the requirements at each step, in the order the steps are listed in. 

Step 1: Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)

The first step of the qualification process is that you must not be working above Social Security’s Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) limit. SGA is how Social Security measures if an individual is unable to do a significant amount of work. 

The SGA limit for 2021 is $1,310 per month. If you are currently working and earning more than the SGA threshold, your claim will be denied.

If you are not working or you are earning less than the SGA limit per month, your claim will move onto step two. 

Step 2: Medically Determined Impairment 

At step two, you must prove the severity of your condition. A doctor’s evaluation is a requirement for this step. A medical professional must find that your impairment is severe and will last for at least 12 months, or result in death.

Social Security will then determine if your condition interferes with your ability to do basic work related activities

If your condition is not severe enough to keep you out of work for a year, or does not interfere with your ability to work, your claim will be denied.

If your condition is severe enough and prohibits you from working, you will move onto step three. 

Step 3: Meeting a Listed Impairment

At step three, Social Security will look at your condition and your medical records. They will compare them to their listings of impairments, or Blue Book.

The Blue Book is a list of medical impairments that is maintained by Social Security. If your impairments meet the criteria of a listing in their Blue Book you are considered disabled and you will move onto step four. 

If your condition does not meet a listing in the Blue Book, Social Security will determine if your impairment is of equal severity to one of their listed disabilities. Assuming Social Security finds that your condition medically equals one of their impairments, you move onto step four.  

Residual Functional Capacity 

Before step four, a disability claims examiner will determine what your Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) is. The RFC measures your capabilities, both mentally and physically, despite your impairments and whatever limits you may have because of your impairments. 

Step 4: Past Relevant Work

At step four, Social Security will compare your RFC to your past relevant work. Past relevant work typically means any job held in the past 15 years. If your condition does not enable you from doing your past work, you will not be found as disabled. 

If they find that you cannot do your past work because of your impairments, you will move onto step five. 

Step 5: Other Forms of Employment

At step five, Social Security will determine if there are any other forms of work that you are able to do, despite your impairments. They will look at your condition, along with your education, past work experiences, age, and skills. If they find that you are able to complete forms of work your claim will be denied.