The law defines adult disability as the inability to do any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment, which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.
Adjudicators of social security disability claims strictly follow a sequential evaluation of each case in order to consistently apply the Social Security Act. The sequential evaluation is as follows:
Step 1: Is/was the individual engaging in substantial gainful activity?
- If the person has been or is working then they are not disabled
- If the person is not working, there was a twelve month period without work, or if the claimant is working and the period in controversy is not in the past, move on to the next step
Step 2: Does the individual have any severe medically determinable impairments? “Severe” impairment is defined as impairment that causes limitation having more than a minimal effect on an individual’s capacity to perform basic work activities.
- If impairment is minimal and does not impact the ability to perform basic work activities, there is no disability
- If there is severe medically determinable impairment, proceed to step 3.
Step 3: Does the individual have any impairment that meets or equals in medical severity a listed impairment? There is a listing of impairments that are so severe that they are presumed to be disabling.
- If the individual establishes medically determinable impairment or a combination of impairments that meets or equals in medical severity a listed impairment, a finding of disability is made and the evaluation ends.
- If the medically determinable impairment(s) does not meet or equal in medical severity any listed impairment, the evaluation continues.
Step 3.5 Assessing the claimant’s residual functional capacity. At a hearing the Administrative Law Judge is responsible for determining the most an individual can do on a sustained basis despite the limitations caused by his/her medically determinable impairment.
Step 4. Does the individual’s medically determinable impairment prevent the performance of past relevant work? Past relevant work includes work that was done over the last 15 years (even if in another country), was done for a long enough period to learn the work, and at a level that constitutes substantial gainful activity.
- If the person’s residual functional capacity allows the individual to perform their past relevant work, they are not disabled.
- If the person establishes that their impairment precludes them from performing their past relevant work, proceed to the next step.
Step 5. Does the individual’s impairment prevent the performance of other work which exists in significant numbers in the national economy? Using the person’s age, education, and work experience, are there other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that this individual is capable of performing on a sustained basis?
- If other work exists in significant numbers in the national economy that this person can do on a sustained basis they are not disabled.
- If other work does not exist in significant numbers in the national economy that this person can do on a sustained basis then they are disabled.