How does the SSA evaluate my impairment, and what are the outcomes?
1. Severe Impairment that matches blue book listing
Should SSA find that your impairment matches the specific criteria for a blue book severe impairment listing, you will automatically qualify for disability benefits.
2. Severe impairment that does not match blue book listing
If SSA finds that your impairment is severe but does NOT exactly match the blue book impairment listing, the disability claims examiner will send your file to be reviewed by a medical consultant. The medical consultant will assess your residual functional capacity (RFC), which determines how much functional ability you have when it comes to work, taking into consideration the effects of your impairment. The consultant will examine your medical records, doctors notes, and the results of any testing. They will specifically look at any notes from doctors regarding your functional ability and what restrictions your impairments cause. They will use this to decide whether your medical problems constitute a disability that would prevent you from working.
Once the medical consultant determines your RFC, they will determine what level of work you are able to perform: sedentary work, light work, medium work, or heavy work. For example, if your doctor has restricted you from standing more than 3 hours a day, the consultant will assess you as able to perform sedentary work.
The next step is for the claims examiner to decide what jobs you can perform given your RFC assessment and your past work history (going back 15 years). They will see if there is any work you performed in the past that you could still do today according to any functional restrictions.
If they decide that you cannot do any of these prior relevant jobs, they will next determine whether you can perform any less demanding work taking into account your age, education, and skills.
Should SSA find that you are unable to perform this less demanding work, they will consider you medically disabled and will grant you benefits under a medical-vocational allowance.
3. Non-severe impairment(s)
Just like in the previous points, if objective medical evidence indicates that your impairments impact your ability to work, the SSA must consider whether they are disabling when taken altogether. This is true even if all of your impairments are not individually severe. For example, say a claimant suffers from fibromyalgia and depression, and the SSA finds that these impairments are individually not severe due to the use of medication. However, the claimant is also experiencing symptoms of insomnia, fatigue, muscle pain, and gastro-intestinal distress as a result of their impairments. Again, all of these issues may be found to individually not be severe. The SSA can still conclude that the combination of all of these does indeed impact the claimant’s ability to work and are therefore severe.