SSA’s 5 Step Sequential Evaluation Explained

What is the five-step sequential evaluation process for Social Security disability benefits? This simple guide explains each step and why they matter.

Sequential Evaluation Process Checklist

The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses a five-step Sequential Evaluation Process to determine whether or not a claimant is considered disabled. 

Read on to learn about this process and how the SSA approves disability benefits. 

What Is the SSA Sequential Evaluation Process?

The Sequential Evaluation Process is five steps the Social Security Administration follows to determine disability eligibility

If the SSA finds an individual is not disabled at a step, they make their decision and do not go on to the next step. 

Why Does the Sequential Evaluation Process Matter?

The Sequential Evaluation Process matters because it forms the questions asked by adjudicators about an individual applying for disability. 

Understanding these questions will best prepare you and your attorney to present a case to the Social Security Administration. It will also ensure the best chance of obtaining Social Security Disability. 

Also Read: How Can I Increase My Chances of Getting Disability? (9 Ways)

The 5-Step Sequential Evaluation Process

The following discusses all five steps of the Sequential Evaluation Process. 

Remember, once the SSA determines you are or are not disabled at any step, the Sequential Evaluation Process is over. 

Note: The SSA does not need to proceed through all 5-steps. They can stop at any step if they determine you meet disability eligibility.

Step 1: Are You Engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity?

Social Security asks if the individual is engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA). 

The amount of Substantial Gainful Activity is updated every year. If an individual is working and their earnings exceed the monthly SGA amount, the SSA may not consider them disabled under the Sequential Evaluation process. 

Step 2: Are Your Impairments Severe?

At the second step of the sequential process, the SSA evaluates whether or not your mental or physical impairment is severe. 

The SSA considers a severe impairment or impairments if your symptoms interfere with or inhibit basic work-related activities. 

This second step also looks at the duration requirement. For example, your impairments must last for 12 consecutive months or result in death. 

Step 3: Do Your Impairments Meet or Equal a Listing?

The SSA maintains a listing of medical criteria. Step three determines if a claimant’s physical or mental conditions match or exceed any impairments listed. 

Including every detailed medical record from your doctor and your medical team is essential. All this information helps SSA determine whether or not your impairment meets or equals a listing.

Also Read: Need a Disability Doctor Letter? Read This First

Step 4: Can You Return to Your Past Relevant Work?

The SSA will consider you disabled if your physical or mental impairments are severe enough to prevent you from working. If you can work, the SAA will not consider you disabled.

Also, this step looks at a function-by-function comparison of your functional capacity and past relevant work. If you retain the physical and mental ability to perform any past relevant work, the SSA will no longer consider you disabled.

Step 5: Can You Adjust to Other Work?

At step five, the SSA must show there is work in the national economy outside of your previous work. 

For example, any work you can adjust to, considering all of the limits on your ability to work despite your impairments, age, education, and work experience. 

Need Help Getting Disability Benefits? Call Us!

The attorneys at Evans Disability have years of combined knowledge and skills working through the Sequential Evaluation Process.

Call us today to start your disability claim at (855) 503-0101.

Sequential Evaluation Process FAQ

Common questions about the Sequential Evaluation Process.

What Is Substantial Gainful Activity?

To be eligible for disability benefits, a person must be unable to engage in Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA). The SSA updates the SGA amount every year. 

A person earning more than a certain monthly amount (net of impairment-related work expenses) is engaging in SGA. Also, the monthly earnings considered as SGA depends on the nature of a person’s disability. 

What Is Residual Functional Capacity?

The Social Security Administration states that Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) is the applicant’s impairment(s). Your RFC is the most you can still do despite your limitations.

These include any related symptoms, such as pain, that may cause physical and mental limitations that affect what you can do in a work setting. 

What Is the Blue Book for Disability?

The Social Security Blue Book for disability discusses the “listings” for each disability. The criteria give you information on what is needed to meet the listing for each disability. 

What Are Social Security Grid Rules?

The Medical-Vocational Guidelines, or “GRID rules,” are a series of rules the Social Security Administration uses at step five of the Sequential Evaluation Process. They use these rules to determine your eligibility for disability benefits.

Also Read: How SSA Grid Rules Can Help Win Your Case