Disability Lawyers in Denver: The Sequential Evaluation Process

The Social Security Administration engages in a five-step sequential evaluation process in order to ascertain whether you are disabled for the purposes of the SSI or Social Security disability. The following terms identified by quotation marks, and the corresponding initials, are terms of art. This means they are imbued with precise legal meaning and therefore may not have the meaning you would commonly associate with the word.

The following are the five steps in the sequential evaluation process the Social Security Administration conducts. If at any point the Social Security Administration finds that you are not disabled, the inquiry ends and your case does not move to the next step.

1. You are not engaging in “substantial gainful activity” (SGA); and
2. You have a “severe” medically determinable impairment; and
3. Your impairment either meets or “equals” one of the listed impairments described in the Social Security regulations, known as the “Listing of Impairments”; or
4. Considering your “residual functional capacity” (RFC), you are unable to conduct your “past relevant work” (PRW); and
5. You are unable to make an adjustment to different work that exists in significant numbers, considering your age, RFC, education, and work experience.

In addition to above sequential evaluation, for a finding of disability you must also satisfy the “duration requirement.” The duration requirement means that your disability must last for a full 12 months. Any disability lawyers in Denver will be able to help you understand this requirement.

In short, two main routes exist in order to receive a finding of disability from either an SSI or Social Security disability application:
• Your impairment must meet or equal an impairment described in the Listing of Impairments (step 3 above in the sequential evaluation process).
• You must satisfy all other requirements of the sequential evaluation process culminating at Step 5.

Not Disabled
There are six different ways whereby you could be found not disabled (all references to “steps” are to the sequential evaluation process discussed above):
1. You are working at the SGA level (step 1);
2. You have no medically determinable impairment (step 2);
3. Although you have a medically determinable impairment, the limitations do not significantly limit your physical or mental ability to perform basic work functions (step 2);
4. Although you have a medically determinable impairment, you fail to satisfy the 12 month duration requirement;
5. You are capable of performing past relevant work (step 4); or
6. You are capable of performing other work (step 5).

Compounding the above, there are “non-disability” requirements that must be met in order to be eligible for the Social Security disability program. This means that you must have worked and paid sufficient amounts in Social Security taxes to have earned sufficient work quarters (QCs) to qualify. For the SSI program, income and asset requirements exist.

In sum, Social Security disability can be a complicated process and there are professionals capable of expert guidance.