• Patrick B. Long

SSA's Five Steps To Determining SSDI Eligibility

Step 1: Substantial Gainful Employment

Step 2: Severe Impairment

Step 3: Listed Impairment and RFC

Step 4: Past Relevant Work

Step 5: Capable of Any Other Work


At step one, Social Security must determine whether the claimant, person applying for SSDI / SSI, is engaging in substantial gainful activity (20 CFR 404.1520(b)). Substantial gainful activity (SGA) is defined as work activity that is both substantial and gainful. “Substantial work activity” is work activity that involves doing significant physical or mental activities (20 CFR 404.1572(a)). “Gainful work activity” is work that is usually done for pay or profit, whether or not a profit is realized (20 CFR 404.1572(b)). Generally, if an individual has earnings from employment or self-employment above a specific level set out in the regulations, it is presumed that he has demonstrated the ability to engage in SGA (20 CFR 404.1574 and 404.1575). If an individual engages in SGA, he is not disabled regardless of how severe his physical or mental impairments are and regardless of his age, education, and work experience. If the individual is not engaging in SGA, the analysis proceeds to the second step.


At step two, Social Security must determine whether the claimant has a medically determinable impairment that is “severe” or a combination of impairments that is “severe” (20 CFR 404.1520(c)). An impairment or combination of impairments is “severe” within the meaning of the regulations if it significantly limits an individual’s ability to perform basic work activities. An impairment or combination of impairments is “not severe” when medical and other evidence establish only a slight abnormality or a combination of slight abnormalities that would have no more than a minimal effect on an individual’s ability to work (20 CFR 404.1522, Social Security Rulings (SSRs) 85-28 and 16-3p). If the claimant does not have a severe medically determinable impairment or combination of impairments, he is not disabled. If the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments, the analysis proceeds to the third step.


At step three, Social Security must determine whether the claimant’s impairment or combination of impairments is of a severity to meet or medically equal the criteria of an impairment listed in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, and 404.1526). If the claimant’s impairment or combination of impairments is of a severity to meet or medically equal the criteria of a listing and meets the duration requirement (20 CFR 404.1509), the claimant is disabled. If it does not, the analysis proceeds to the next step.


Before considering step four of the sequential evaluation process, Social Security must first determine the claimant’s residual functional capacity (20 CFR 404.1520(e)). An individual’s residual functional capacity is his ability to do physical and mental work activities on a sustained basis despite limitations from his impairments. In making this finding, Social Security must consider all of the claimant’s impairments, including impairments that are not severe (20 CFR404.1520(e) and 404.1545; SSR 96-8p).


Next, Social Security must determine at step four whether the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform the requirements of his past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1520(f)). The term past relevant work means work performed (either as the claimant actually performed it or as it is generally performed in the national economy) within the last 15 years or 15 years prior to the date that disability must be established. In addition, the work must have lasted long enough for the claimant to learn to do the job and have been SGA (20 CFR 404.1560(b) and 404.1565). If the claimant has the residual functional capacity to do his past relevant work, the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant is unable to do any past relevant work or does not have any past relevant work, the analysis proceeds to the fifth and last step.


At the last step of the sequential evaluation process (20 CFR 404.1520(g)), Social Security must determine whether the claimant is able to do any other work considering his residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience. If the claimant is able to do other work, he is not disabled. If the claimant is not able to do other work and meets the duration requirement, he is disabled. Although the claimant generally continues to have the burden of proving disability at this step, a limited burden of going forward with the evidence shifts to the Social Security Administration. In order to support a finding that an individual is not disabled at this step, the Social Security Administration is responsible for providing evidence that demonstrates that other work exists in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can do, given the residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience (20 CFR 404.1512 and 404.1560(c)).1560(c)).


Retaining an experienced attorney representative to help you guide these steps is the best way to over come each hurdle. Contact Long & Vernon LLP today for a free consultation. 619-485-2900

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