The Social Security Administration (SSA) has a specific definition of disability which administrative law judges apply in determining whether a claimant is disabled or not. Under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act, disability is defined as:
The inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.
The SSA applies a 5 step sequential evaluation to determine disability under the above definition:
Step One: The administrative law judge (ALJ) must decide if the claimant is involved in substantial gainful activity. SGA is defined as work that is substantial and gainful.
Step Two: The ALJ next decides whether the claimant has a medically determinable impairment that is “severe.” An impairment is severe if it significantly limits an individual’s ability to perform basic work activities.
Step Three: Then the ALJ determines whether the claimant’s impairment(s) meets certain statutory criteria. In addition, the ALJ will determine the claimant’s residual functional capacity, or ability to perform the physical and mental work activities on a sustained basis, despite the limitations.
Step Four: At this step, the ALJ decides if the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform the requirements of past relevant work. So long as the claimant is unable to do any past relevant work, the ALJ moves on to the final step.
Step Five: Here the ALJ decides if the claimant is able to do any other work. If the claimant can perform any other work, he or she will not be considered to be disabled.
Related Legal Article: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Social Security Disability Income (SSI)
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Published: May 10, 2012