There are 5 sequential steps that get evaluated when determining if someone qualifies for social security disability.
For each of the 5 steps, if you do not make it past one of the 5 steps, you do not move forward to the next step.
Step 1: Is there Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)?
In 2023, you have SGA if you make more than $1470 gross income per month, net of impairment-related work expenses, you are NOT disabled, and you do not move on to step 2.
The $1470 figure is $2460 if you are blind.
If there is SGA, then you are not disabled, and the evaluation ends. If there is no SGA, then you move on to Step 2 of 5.
Step 2: Is your physical and/or mental condition severe?
For step 2, your conditions have to be such that they interfere with basic work-related activities and be expected to last 12 months or more or result in death. If your conditions are not severe enough to last 12 months or more or result in your death, then you are not disabled. If your conditions are severe enough to last 12 months or more or result in your death, then you move to Step 3 of 5.
Step 3: Do you meet or equal a listing?
If you meet or equal a listing, there is no need to move on to steps 4 and 5 as you are disabled. Listings are lists of impairments that if you meet the criteria for, you will be determined disabled. For example, depression has a listing as does chronic heart failure, so there are listings for mental health impairments in addition to physical impairments.
If you meet or equal a listing, then you are disabled and the analysis ends, but if you do not meet or equal a listing then you move to Step 4 of 5. However, prior to Step 4, your residual functional capacity (RFC) must be determined.
Your RFC will be an inventory of your physical and/or mental limitations and restrictions, such as how long you could sit or stand/walk in an eight-hour workday, how much you can lift occasionally and frequently, how much interaction with the public you can have, etc. The sole purpose of the RFC is to assess your ability to work for steps 4 and 5.
Step 4: Can you perform any of your Past Relevant Work (PRW)?
Your PRW is any job you did within 15 years prior to your date of disability, provided you did the work long enough to reach average performance. It is important to know what your easiest job was 15 years prior to your disability, as that job may be what the reviewer uses to deny you.
If you can perform PRW, you are not disabled. It does not matter if the company you worked for went bankrupt or moved overseas. The question is only whether, given your RFC, you can perform the PRW.
For steps 1 through 4, the burden of proof is on you the claimant. If you make it this far, then you move to Step 5, and the burden shifts to SSA.
Step 5: Are there other jobs available in the national economy you could do?
At this step, the government (SSA) must prove there are other jobs you could perform based on your RFC. Let us assume you were denied at the initial application and at reconsideration, and now you will be in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) at a hearing, as is so often the case.
At the hearing in front of the ALJ, SSA uses a vocational expert (VE) to try and meet their burden. The VE will testify, based off the RFC the judge gives them, as to whether you can perform PRW (Step 4) or any other work in the national economy (Step 5). If you hired a lawyer, they will ask the VE their own questions.
Sometimes in the hearing, the judge will make their decision about your case. Otherwise, you wait a couple of months (or more), and then you will get a written decision describing the outcome of your case.
To schedule a Free Consult with a disability attorney, call us at (920) 261-1630. We only get paid if you win.
We serve the following counties Dane, Dodge, Jefferson, Milwaukee, and Waukesha, with offices in Watertown and Lake Mills.