A Pittsburgh disability attorney often hears the one question every person who is unable to work because of a disability wants to have answered: Will I be approved for Social Security disability benefits? In most cases, that question is impossible to answer with certainty. The Social Security Administration’s rules and regulations are complicated, and its decisions sometimes defy common sense.
Although the outcome of a Pittsburgh disability benefits application is not always predictable, the process by which the Social Security Administration decides every application is very predictable. In each case, the Social Security Administration engages in a “5-step sequential evaluation process.” That is, in evaluating your claim for benefits, the Social Security Administration considers each of the following factors, in the following order:
If you are working in a job that the Social Security Administration deems to be “substantial gainful employment,” then your application will not be approved, regardless of the severity of your impairment. “Substantial gainful employment” is work that requires a significant amount of physical or mental activity, and that is usually done for pay or profit.
At Step 2 of the sequential evaluation process, the Social Security Administration considers whether you have a “medically determinable impairment” that is severe enough to prevent you from working. This step is intended to weed out frivolous claims. An impairment that has only a slight effect on your ability to work is not severe; similarly, an impairment that is not expected to result in death or to last longer than 12 months is not severe.
In order to be found disabled at Step 3 of the sequential evaluation process, your impairment must meet or “medically equal” one of the impairments found in the Social Security regulations known as the “Listing of Impairments.” The Listing describes over 100 medical conditions that would ordinarily prevent a person from engaging in any gainful activity. If you have a condition that meets a Listing or if the medical signs, findings and symptoms of your condition are the medical equivalent of a Listing, then the Social Security Administration will find that you are disabled by virtue of your medical impairment alone. If your condition does not “meet or equal” a Listing, then the Social Security Administration will consider additional, non-medical factors related to your ability to work, in Steps 4 and 5.
Here, the Social Security Administration considers whether you can perform any “past relevant work.” Broadly speaking, “past relevant work” is any substantial gainful activity you have been employed at in the past 15 years. If the Social Security Administration determines you are capable of performing past relevant work, then you are not disabled and your application for disability benefits will be denied. If, however, you are not able to perform past relevant work, then the Social Security Administration will ask whether you are capable of doing any other type of work.
If you cannot perform your past relevant work, the Social Security Administration will determine whether you can do any work that exists either in the Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania region or in significant numbers in the national economy. At this final step of the sequential evaluation process, the Social Security Administration will consider your “residual functional capacity” (that is, what you are capable of doing, despite your disability) and related vocational factors (your age, education, work experience) to determine if you are able to adjust to different work than you have done in the past. If the answer to Step 5 is “no,” then you will be approved for Pittsburgh disability benefits.
In order to obtain Pittsburgh disability benefits, you first have to file an application with the Social Security Administration. Most successful applicants also have to file two appeals and testify at a hearing before their application is approved. It can be a time- consuming and sometimes frustrating process.
This process will be easier, and your chances of success greater, if you have on your side a Pittsburgh disability attorney who understands the language of the Social Security rules and regulations, and knows how the system works.
We’ve loaded this website with over 100 pages of practical information and advice to help you with your claim, at whatever stage in the process you may be. Our hope is that the more knowledge you have, the less anxiety you will feel.
If you are undecided about applying for Pittsburgh disability benefits, the following links may help get you started:
If your application for Pittsburgh disability benefits was denied:
If you would like more specific information, fill out the Claim Evaluation Form on the right side of this page.