Qualifying for Social Security disability benefits requires proving to the government that you are unable to perform any job. As disability claim lawyers, we always explain to our clients that the disability program goes through a five-step process to determine your Social Security Disability claim status.
- Step One: Have you worked after the date you claim you became disabled?
- Step Two: Do you have a medical condition that imposes more than a minimal limitation on your ability to work.
- Step Three: Does the medical evidence shows that you meet the necessary criteria for disability based on the Social Security Administration’s List of Impairments.
- Step Four: The government determines whether you can perform a job you have performed in the past.
- Step Five: The Social Security Administration determines if you have the physical and/or mental ability to perform any other work now.
This blog entry will deal with step two: proving you have a severe impairment.
What Does “Severe Impairment” Mean?
The term “severe” in the context of Social Security disability is a term of art. There are many conditions that most people will agree are severe that might not meet the definition the Social Security Administration envisioned.
For example, imagine if you fracture your arm playing basketball. Most people would agree a fractured arm is a severe problem. However, the Social Security Administration might not agree. There is a very simple explanation for this divergence in opinions.
By definition, a severe impairment is any condition
- that imposes a limitation on your ability to perform basic work activities, and
- that will reasonably impose those limitations for at least a year.
A basic work activity can be exertional or non-exertional. Exertional work activities include lifting, walking, sitting, standing, bending, stooping, crouching, and crawling. Non-exertional work activities include reaching, handling, fingering, seeing, hearing, speaking, following simple directions, getting along with others, and being exposed to certain environments and temperatures.
Turning to our example of a fractured arm, an individual with a broken arm will have some limitations. Most Social Security disability examiners would not question that a fractured arm limits basic work activities. However, those same examiners may not characterize the broken arm as a severe impairment because most fractures will heal within a few months. In cases like this, the claimant’s Social Security Disability claim status may be difficult to prove. As a result, the disability examiners would characterize his or her condition as “severe but not expected to last 12 months.”
Some people that apply for Social Security disability will have no trouble proving the medical condition limiting their ability to work is a severe impairment. Step two of the process is designed to weed out cases that involve no medical diagnosis at all or claims like the one discussed above where the problem is serious but only for a short period of time. Generally, most applicants will be able to prove that he or she has a severe impairment as long as they seek medical attention for the condition.
Your Social Security Disability Claim Status May Hinge on Your Level of Impairment
The SSA will decide whether you have a severe impairment that determines your Social Security Disability claim status. As you pass through the application process, it helps to have disability lawyers by your side.
If you have any questions about a Social Security claim, contact a disability attorney at any of our offices across Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Illinois. Call (618) 266-4038 or submit the Contact Form on our website for a free consultation.