The Social Security Administration uses a basic 5-step process to determine eligibility for disability benefits:
Step 1: Are you working?
If your disability allows you to work, and you’re able to earn more than a certain amount per month then (usually) the SSA does not consider you to be disabled. The earnings limit in 2017 for non-blind persons is $1,170/month; for the blind, $1,950. This amount is adjusted each year.
Step 2: Is your disability severe?
If your average earned income per month does not exceed the limit, then the SSA passes your application along to the Disability Determination Services (DDS) office in your state. For the DDS medical examiners to determine that, indeed, you are disabled; your medical condition must significantly limit your ability to do basic work activities—such as walking, sitting, and remembering—for at least one year. If your disability is not that severe, they will decide that you are not eligible for SSD benefits. But if it is that severe, the DDS goes on to…
Step 3: Is your medical condition on the List of Impairments (LOI)?
The DDS refers to the LOI to see if your condition is listed. If it is, then it automatically means that you are disabled as defined by law. If it isn’t, then the DDS looks to see if your condition is as severe as a condition that is on the list. If it is, then they will consider you to be disabled. If it isn’t, they go on to…
Step 4: Can you do the work you did before?
The DDS decides if your medical condition prevents you from being able to do the work you did before. (Or something similar.) If you can still do it, they will decide that you are not disabled. But if your disability does prevent you from doing that kind of work, the DDS goes on to…
Step 5: Can you do any other type of work?
The DDS looks to see if you could do some other type of work, despite your disability. It evaluates your age, education, medical condition (physical or mental), work experience, and any skills you may have that could be used to do some other work. If you cannot, they will determine that you are disabled. But if you can do other work (even if you don’t care to), then you are deemed not disabled and, therefore, ineligible for SSD benefits.