The judge will look at your earning records to see if you currently are engaged in "substantial gainful activity" (for 2010, this means ability to work and earn more than $1000 per month). If judge finds you are engaged in substantial gainful activity, then you will be found NOT disabled and will not qualify for benefits. If you are not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the judge will move on to step 2.
Is Your Impairment Severe?
The judge makes this decision based on how the impairment affects everyday activities, like sitting, standing, walking, interacting with others, following directions, etc. If the judge decides that the limitations are not severe then he will find you are NOT disabled and do not qualify for benefits. If the judge finds the limitations are severe then he will move on to step 3.
Does Your Impairment "Meet or Equal" a "Listing"?
The Social Security law actually contains a list of medical and psychiatric conditions and diseases along with specific symptoms, test results and lab results of each. If these symptoms/test results/lab results are documented in the medical records then the judge can find you disabled based on a "listing". This may seem straightforward, but it isn't necessarily. The standards set forth in the listings are very high and difficult to meet. If you DO NOT meet a listing, the judge will move on to step 4.
Can You Return to Your Past Relevant Work?
Past relevant work is the work you performed in the 15 years before you became disabled. If you ARE able to return to past relevant work then you are NOT DISABLED and will not qualify for benefits. If the judge determines that you CAN NOT return to past relevant work, he will move on to step 5.
Can You Perform Any Work?
If the judge determines that you are not able to return to your past significant work, he will consider what, if any, type of work you ARE capable of performing. This includes the level of exertion (sedentary, light, medium, heavy) you are capable of. The judge will look at whether there are jobs in the national economy of the type and level of exertion you are capable of performing. If it is determined that you ARE capable of performing other types of jobs then the judge will find you NOT DISABLED and you will not qualify for benefits. If the judge determines that you ARE NOT capable of performing other types of jobs then you will be found DISABLED.
Additional resources provided by the author
Additional information can be found by contacting the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213 or by visiting their website at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/.