How Does Social Security Determine If I’m Disabled?

By June 19, 2021 June 28th, 2021 No Comments

The process that Social Security uses to determine a disability is confusing. The SSA uses a “five-step sequential evaluation process” that defines a disability based on its standard. Read on to learn more about each step. 

Step One: Are you engaging in “substantial gainful activity”?

In general, in 2021, if you’re grossing more than $1,310 per month from work income, the SSA will deem that as working too much for benefits. The agency doesn’t see your condition as serious enough to prevent you from earning income, although there are some exceptions.

Step Two: Does your condition meet the definition of “severe”?

The SSA requires a “severe” physical or psychological condition that has more than a minimal effect on one’s ability to work. For those with more than one condition, the SSA will determine if the combination of conditions is “severe.”

Step Three: Does your condition meet or equal a listing?

The SSA maintains a list of conditions that are severe enough to automatically warrant a finding of disability. If your condition is on this list and is severe enough, then you’ll be found disabled. A physician or other qualifying medical professional must document the impairment and note the severity of the impairment in detail. 

Step Four: Can you perform your past related work?

If step three cannot be met, step four comes into play. The SSA calls it your “residual functional capacity” or RFC. The agency compares your RFC to what’s required to perform any work you’ve completed in the past 15 years. If the SSA determines you can perform any of this work, you’ll be denied.  If you cannot perform any of this work,  SSA will look at other work in Step Five.


Step Five: What about other work?

SSA will also look at other potential work options to determine if something is more suitable to your disability condition. If no other full-time work is deemed an option for you, then you will be found disabled. Your age, education, and prior work will factor into this analysis.


As you can tell, this process is a complicated approval pathway, and there are myriad ways to land in the denial pile. If you find yourself there, know that you have options for an appeal. Call Drew L. Johnson, P.C. today at (541) 434-6466 to learn more about how he’s helped Eugene and Albany residents receive their valuable disability benefits.