The Social Security Administration follows its own very strict definition of disabled. According to Social Security law, you are disabled if your physical or mental impairments are so severe that you are unable to do your previous work and you cannot, considering your age, education, and work experience, do any other substantial gainful work that exists in the national economy.The Social Security Administration uses a five-step procedure to determine whether you satisfy this definition.Step 1: No substantial gainful activity. You must not currently be engaging in “substantial gainful activity.” You will satisfy this step if you are unemployed. If you have a job, it must require no more than minimal duties and provide minimal pay.Step 2: A severe medically determinable impairment. You impairment must be severe, which means it must limit your ability to perform basic work functions. It also must have lasted or be expected to last at least 12 months or result in death. Finally, it must be medically determinable. “Medically determinable” means your impairment must be established through medically acceptable diagnostic techniques.Step 3: Meeting or equaling the Listings. If your medically determinable impairment meets or equals a Listing, you will be approved for disability benefits and your claim will not need to go through the last two steps. The Listing of Impairments is a list of many physical and mental impairments that can be disabling. The Listing for each impairment describes what medical findings an individual suffering from that impairment must have to be found disabled. If your impairment does not meet or equal a Listing, your claim progresses to the next step.Step 4: Ability to do past relevant work. To be approved for benefits, you must not be able to do “past relevant work.” In general, this means you must be unable to do the easiest job you held in the past 15 years. See Proving You Cannot Do Past Work. If you are capable of performing this job, you are not disabled. If you are not, your claim progresses to the last step.Step 5: Ability to adapt to other work. You must not be able to adapt to other jobs that exist in the national economy in significant numbers considering your age, education, remaining ability to work, and work experience. This is the most complicated step in the disability evaluation process. It becomes easier to satisfy this step after the age of 50. See How Age Affects Your Claim.
Helpful Suggestions for Appealing a Denial of Benefits