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How does the SSA determine whether to award disability benefits?

When Georgia residents are approaching an important decision, it is vital to have all of the information available to help make that decision. This is the case when it comes to Social Security disability benefits, both for the individual applying for benefits and the Social Security Administration in examining the individual's application.

Last week, this blog discussed who makes the decision of whether to award SSD benefits. As discussed there, the Social Security Administration is the entity that looks at a person's application for benefits; it requires a number of pieces of information to evaluate whether an award of benefits is appropriate.

The next step for those in need of benefits is to know how the benefits decision is made based on that information. Typically, the Social Security Administration uses a five-step process to determine whether to award benefits.

The first step in the process is to look at whether the person has an inability to work. If a person is working and earning a certain amount of income each month, the person may be considered to not have a disability. The earnings amount changes each year.

The second step is to look at whether the person's medical condition is severe, such that it limits the person's ability to do basic work activities. This includes activities like sitting, standing and walking, as well as cognitive issues like memory.

Next, the Administration will determine whether the individual's medical condition falls on the List of Impairments, which is a list that describes medical conditions that automatically qualify a person as disabled under the law. If the condition is not on the list, the agency will compare the condition to those on the list to see if it is of the same or similar severity.

Steps four and five are reached only if the person's medical condition does not meet or equal that of a listed impairment. The agency then has to look to the work the person did before the condition, and whether the person would be able to do that line of work now. If the person cannot do this work, the agency will finally look at whether he or she can do any other type of work.

Accordingly, along the five-step process, there are multiple points where a person can be determined to be disabled. This finding will then be used to support an award of disability benefits.

Source: Social Security Administration, "Social Security Disability Benefits," accessed on April 11, 2015

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