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A closer look at how the SSA determines disability - III

In a series of ongoing posts, we've been discussing how those who've suffered some type of life-altering injury or been diagnosed with a serious illness that has left them unable to work understandably become anxious about their ability to make ends meet going forward.

We've also been discussing how they can derive some comfort from the Social Security Administration's disability insurance program, which provides much-needed financial relief to individuals whose condition meets the agency's definition of disability and are able to pass the earnings test. We'll conclude our efforts in today's post, examining the five-step process relied upon by the SSA to determine if someone is indeed disabled. 

Are you currently employed?

The threshold inquiry made by the SSA is whether the applicant is currently employed. While holding some type of employment will not act as an automatic bar, the monthly earnings average at this position cannot be more than an amount designated by the SSA (which changes each year).

If the monthly earnings average fall below this threshold or the applicant is not working, the second inquiry will be addressed.

Have you been diagnosed with a "severe" medical condition?

The second inquiry is whether the medical condition significantly limits the applicant's ability to perform basic work-related activities for 12 months, such as walking, sitting standing, lifting, etc.

If this is the case, the third inquiry will be addressed. If the medical condition is not considered severe, the process ends.

Is the medical condition on the listings or medically equivalent to a listing?  

The third inquiry revolves around the SSA's list of impairments, or the listings, which is essentially a comprehensive catalogue of conditions that the agency considers severe enough to prevent someone from engaging in substantial gainful activity.

If the applicant's condition is found in the listings, they will be considered to have a qualifying disability. If it is not, the focus then shifts to whether the applicant's condition is as severe as a listed condition, and, if this is determined to be the case, they will be considered to have a qualifying disability.

If an applicant does not fall into either category, the fourth inquiry will be addressed.

Can prior work be performed?  

The fourth inquiry investigates whether the applicant can perform any elements of their prior position.

If they can't, the fifth inquiry will be addressed. If they can, the process ends.

Can any work be performed?

The fifth and final inquiry involves officials examining whether the applicant, based on their skill, work experience, age, education, etc., can perform any other type of work despite the medical condition.

If it's determined they can't do other work, they will be considered to have a qualifying disability. If they can, the process ends.

Here's hoping that our ongoing discussion has provided some clarity concerning this complex area of the law.

Always remember that you don't have to navigate this process on your own, and that a skilled legal professional can answer your questions, explain the law and help you pursue disability benefits.

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Mr. McKellar was voted by his peers as a “Top Attorney” by Knoxville’s CityView magazine in its 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 editions. In 2014, 2015, and 2016, Mr. McKellar was selected as a member of the “Top 100 Trial Lawyers” by the National Trial Lawyers.

Ms. Easter was voted by her peers as a “Top Attorney” in Cityview Magazine for Family Law / Divorce / Child Support in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

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