SSA Application Claims Process

Although anyone can apply for social security benefits, not everyone is approved.

The disability claim process is more rigorous and complex than you may think.

The SSA approves only one-third of initial applications.

There are generally five to six steps to the SSA application process, depending on whether you appeal.

Having an attorney guide you through is critical. 

Step 1: Financial Eligibility

The first step in applying for SSA benefits is determining your financial eligibility. The social security administration has its own definitions, and you will encounter these terms throughout the process.

First, the SSA will access your substantial gainful activity (SGA). In other words, your gainful employment.

If you make a certain amount of money through an SGA, the administration will not consider you disabled. 

To pass step 1, you must make less than $1,350 per month in 2022.

You will not qualify for benefits if you earn more than this amount, regardless of whether your impairment or disability meets the other requirements. 

Step 2: Level of Impairment

If you pass step 1, you must next prove to the SSA that you have a severe physical impairment or mental disability.

Sometimes, multiple minor impairments combined will meet the qualification. Either way, your disability must prevent you from working for at least one year (12 consecutive months).

Importantly, even if you have a severe impairment, it must prevent you from performing daily work and personal activities to qualify.

In other words, if you have a severe impairment manageable with pharmaceuticals or different types of assistance, you may not be eligible. 

Who Determines Impairment Level? 

The medical and expert opinions of your doctors and the SSA itself determine whether you have a severe impairment.

If your physical or mental impairment is deemed severe, your application process proceeds to step 3. 

Step 3: List of Impairments

You’ve made it to step 3. Even though you have a severe impairment, the SSA will review your records to determine if your disability is one on its list of impairments.

If your disability does not match one on the list, don’t panic, you may still qualify if the SSA determines your condition is of equal severity to an impairment on the list.

Step 4: Previous Employment 

Next, the SSA will assess whether you can still perform your previous employment.

Your claim will be denied if the SSA determines your disability does not inhibit you from achieving your job tasks. 

The SSA does not just look at your last place of employment but will look back to any job you have held in the past 15 years. The SSA will access your residual functional capacity.

The residual functional capacity assessment (RFC) measures your impairment and any related symptoms that cause physical and mental limitations affecting your work capability.

Your RFC is the most you can still do despite your limitations. The SSA will measure your RFC based on your medical and employment records, among other documentation in your application file. 

Step 5: Workplace Capability 

Finally, if you make it to step 5, you will receive a medical-vocational assessment.

The assessment determines if you can perform any other work based on your job experience, education, age, and gender.

Even though you may not be able to perform the same type of work you have in the past, your application will be denied if you can perform other work suitable to you. 

Step 6: Appeals Process

It is not uncommon to receive a denial in the application process, and there are avenues for appeal. The SSA provides four levels of appeal:

  • Reconsideration,
  • Hearing by an administrative law judge,
  • Review by the appeals counsel, and
  • Federal court review.

Generally, you have 60 days from the date you receive the SSA decision to request an appeal in writing.

The Cottrell Law Office can assist you throughout the process. It can be difficult to navigate an appeal on your own. Let us help.

Social Security Disability Claims Attorney

The social security administration disability claim process is anything but simple. It may seem easy on paper, but the process is often time-consuming and fraught with roadblocks.

It can be highly frustrating to be met with barriers to recovery if you are struggling to support your family financially. Our knowledgeable attorney and support staff will assist you at every step.

Contact us today if you are disabled and believe you are entitled to SSA benefits.

Whether you are just beginning the application process or have received a denial and need to appeal, we will put our experience to work for you. Call us to schedule an appointment today.

Author Photo

Wesley Cottrell

Wes Cottrell earned his B.A. from Pittsburg State University in 1981 and his J.D. from the Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kansas in 1985. He was admitted to practice law in Kansas in 1986, in Missouri in 1987, in Arkansas in 1989, and Oklahoma in 1993. He is licensed to practice law in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, eastern Arkansas, western Arkansas, and western Missouri. He was Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in Crawford County, Kansas from 1987-1989.

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