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Steps in Determining Disability

In evaluating whether an individual is disabled, the Social Security Administration applies what is called a sequential evaluation process. The first step is to determine whether the person is engaging in substantial gainful activity. Simply stated, this means earning too much money. If so, the claim is denied. If not, the second step is to determine whether an individual has a severe impairment, one that significantly limits the ability to do basic work activities. If one or more severe impairments are present, the third step is to determine whether any impairment meets some very specific requirements in the social security regulations. If so, the claim is approved at that point; however, if not, this is not the end of the case, which moves to step four. At the fourth step, the Social Security Administration determines whether the person has a condition or conditions that prevent the performance of their past relevant work. If they cannot, the inquiry moves to the fifth step and a determination whether the combined effect of a person's impairments prevent the performance of any work, considering the remaining capabilities, physical/mental capacity, age, education and work experience. Most social security cases are won at the fifth step under the evaluation process. A skilled advocate's involvement can be critical.

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