How to Get on Disability


We Explain How SSDI and SSI Claims are Decided and How You Can Satisfy the Social Security Disability Requirements


“How do I get on disability?” This is one of the most common questions we receive from potential clients who are considering applying for disability in Virginia or who have filed a Social Security appeal after receiving a denial letter.


This article answers that question by providing an overview of Social Security disability requirements to receive SSD benefits. Keep reading to learn more. Then call, text, or email Richmond disability lawyer and Virginia Beach Social Security attorney Corey Pollard for a free consultation and strategy session.


How Disability Claims are Decided by the Social Security Administration (SSA)


When your claim for disability is evaluated – either by Disability Determination Services (DDS), on appeal before an administrative law judge (ALJ) with the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR), or in federal court – specific issues must be addressed in order. SSA procedures and federal law require it. This process is called the five-step sequential evaluation.


If the SSA finds you disabled at any step of the sequential analysis, then the evaluation ends and you are awarded SSDI or SSI benefits. Likewise, if the SSA can find you not disabled at any step, then the evaluation ends.


The Sequential Evaluation Process for Disability Claims


If you have enough work credits to qualify for SSDI benefits, or if your limited income, assets, and resources satisfy the SSI requirements, the SSA will use a step-by-step process involving five questions. They are:


1. Are You Working?


You cannot receive disability benefits if you are working and making more than the substantial gainful activity (SGA) level.


In 2018 the SGA level is $1,180 per month. This means that if you are working and your earnings average more than $1,180 a month, your claim will be denied in most cases.


If you are not working, or if you are working part-time and making less than SGA, your local SSA field office will send your application to Disability Determination Services. DDS will evaluate your medical condition, which is at the center of Steps 2-5.


2. Is Your Medical Condition “Severe”?


Having a diagnosed medical condition is not enough to get on disability. Your medical condition must interfere with basic work-related activities for your disability claim to be considered further.


For example, you may have hypertension (high blood pressure). If you take medication that controls your hypertension so well that you have no symptoms from the condition, then the SSA will find that your hypertension is not a “severe” medical condition.


Another example is depression or anxiety. If you take medication that limits your depression symptoms, then the SSA will find that your mental health condition is not severe because it does not affect your ability to perform basic work-related tasks such as concentrating, focusing, and following instructions.


3. Does Your Medical Condition Meet or Equal the Criteria Found in Social Security’s List of Medical Impairment?


The SSA keeps a list of medical conditions for each of the major body systems. If you meet the listed criteria for any one of these medical conditions, the SSA will consider you disabled no matter your age, education, or work experience.


If none of your medical conditions meet a listing, then the SSA will evaluate whether your conditions are equivalent to a similar medical condition that is found on the list. You may be found to “equal a listing” if:


  • Your medical impairment is not listed, but is as severe as a listed impairment; or


  • You do not match the exact criteria for a listed impairment, but your medical findings show the same thing as the criteria. For example, the listing may call for a specific showing on a specific diagnostic test. You may have a similar result from a different diagnostic test. The SSA may find this sufficient to determine that you are disabled; or,


  • You have a combination of impairments. On their own, no single impairment is enough to be found disabled. But combined you satisfy the Social Security disability requirements. For example, you may have back problems and depression that render you disabled.


If your medical condition is not found on the list – and many aren’t –  and you don’t “equal a listing,” then the SSA will proceed to Step 4 to determine your residual functional capacity.


4. Can you do any of the work you did in the past fifteen (15) years?


If your medical condition is severe, but does not meet or equal a medical condition found on Social Security’s list, then the SSA will determine your residual functional capacity. Your residual functional capacity is the most you can do physically and mentally in a work setting despite your limitations.


If the SSA finds that you are capable of performing any of the work you did previously given your residual functional capacity, it will deny your claim. If the SSA finds that you’re not capable of performing any of your past jobs, then the disability evaluation will continue to Step 5.


5. Can You Do Any Other Type of Work?


If you are unable to do the work you did in the past, the SSA will determine if you are able to adjust to other work. The SSA will deny your claim if it finds there are other jobs that you can perform in the national economy.


A word of warning: The SSA does not have to find you a specific job, or a job of equal pay to your prior work, or even a job near where you live to deny your claim.


The SSA considers your medical conditions, residual functional capacity, age, education, past work experience, and transferable job skills when deciding whether you can adjust to other work. Special rules apply to people who are 50 years of age or older.


Speak with a Top-Rated Disability Attorney For Help Getting on Disability Benefits


If you’re unable to work because of your health, call or text us at: 804-251-1620 or 757-810-5614. You can also email us by completing the contact form to your right.


We help adults across Virginia prove that they satisfy Social Security disability requirements and get on disability. All you have to do is call us to get started.


And remember: There is no fee unless you win your case.