For many New Jersey residents who have an injury, illness or condition and believe they meet the requirements to receive Social Security disability benefits, the entire process can seem a bit overwhelming. From filling out the application, to the hearing, to the possibility that they might be confronted with a denied claim, it can be a worrisome time. However, this should not dissuade a person who is unable to work and is dealing with medical expenses and other issues.

The Social Security Administration has a five-step process it uses when determining whether an applicant is disabled or not. First, the SSA will ask if the applicant is working. Working while applying is not exclusionary. The earnings are paramount. If the person earns more than a certain amount per month, he or she will generally not be considered disabled. This amount varies year-to-year. For those not working or whose earnings are below the cutoff point, the next step will be the medical condition and its severity.

To be disabled, the condition must be classified as “severe.” This means it significantly impacts the person’s ability to do basic work activities like standing, sitting, lifting and the like. It must last for a minimum of 12 months to be severe. The next step is determining if the impairment either meets or is equivalent to one of the listing of impairments (also known as the listings). This has a variety of impairments, and the person being declared disabled will hinge on the ability to perform substantial gainful activity.

The SSA will examine the medical issue and see if it falls under the listings or equals one on the listings. If that is met, it will then be asked if the person can do work he or she did previously. If the answer is no, it will then be asked if the person can do other kinds of work. Age, education, work that was done before — all are part of the decision-making process to see if the person is disabled or not. If there is work that the person can do, then they may be deemed not to have a disability. If the person cannot do any kind of work, then they may be deemed disabled.

People who are seeking Social Security disability should understand the basics of the process from the beginning. Part of that is the five-steps the SSA will take to decide. Professional guidance is available to help those seeking benefits with the application and any other issues that comes up.