- Question 1: Are you performing "Substantial Gainful Activity"?
The mere fact that you may be working does not necessarily damage your case, however, there is a minimum threshold of gross (pre-tax) monthly earnings that must not be exceeded, or your claim will be denied. In 2010 the dollar value is $1,000 monthly. If you earn less that this, proceed to Step 2.
- Question 2: Is there a severe impairment that has prevented (or WILL prevent) you from working for 12 or more months?
This is a fairly straightforward question that must be answered in order to proceed to Step 3. Because a crucial component of the decision to grant disability benefits relates to the medical status of the Claimant, complete medical records documenting the illness are regarded as extremely helpful in passing the portion of the analysis. If the answer to Step 2 is "Yes", proceed to Step 3.
- Question 3: Do the impairments "meet a listing" in the Social Security Blue Book?
Social Security publishes the "Blue Book" (link below), which contains a number of medical conditions and the symptoms associated therewith which, if proven, may be used to rule that a Claimant is disabled. "Meeting a Listing" by proving a medical condition will end the Social Security application process with an award of benefits. If a listing is not met, the analysis continues with Step 4. It should be noted that Social Security has developed a list of "Compassionate Allowances", which are medical conditions that are severe enough to allow a case to proceed through the process with an award of benefits. Proving a condition that is listed as a Compassionate Allowance, AND IDENTIFYING IT AS SUCH ON THE APPLICATION should significantly speed up the processing of a disability claim.
- Question 4: Can you perform the duties of your "past relevant work"?
If this portion of the analysis is reached, Social Security will examine your work history (usually the past 15 years) with an eye toward the mental and physical requirements thereof. This analysis will be used to determine whether your condition would prevent the performance of this job. If the answer is yes, then proceed to Step 5. If you are able to perform your past relevant work, the analysis will end with a denial of benefits.
- Question 5: Do your past work, age, education, and residual functional capacity render you disabled?
If this step of the analysis is reached, Social Security will look to factors such as your age, education, work experience, and "residual functional capacity" (sedentary, light, medium, or heavy work) in order to determine whether or not you can perform your past work, or adapt to your condition and perform other substantial gainful activity. If you are unable to do your past work or perform different work as your condition would allow, a ruling of "Disabled" will occur.
SSA.gov is a great resource for examining the particulars of the process, especially as pertains your individual circumstances. Here are some particular areas of interest on that site: