Establishing a severe impairment is the second step of the sequential evaluation used in determining whether someone is entitled to social security disability benefits. This article is the second in a series of blog articles – each focusing on the steps in determining if you qualify for social security disability (SSD) benefits. The blog article on the first step can be found here.
Assuming that you passed the first step of qualification, to qualify for social security disability benefits, you must have a severe impairment or combination of impairments. If you don’t, then you are determined not disabled within the meaning of Title II of the Social Security Act.
What is a Severe Impairment?
A severe impairment or combination of impairments is one that significantly limits your physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. According to SSA policy, an impairment or combination of impairments is found “not severe” when medical evidence establishes only a slight abnormality or a combination of slight abnormalities which would have no more than a minimal effect on a claimant’s ability to work. At this stage, your age, education, and work experience are not considered in making a step two severity determination.
However, if the SSA is unable to clearly determine the effect of an impairment on a person’s ability to perform basic work activities, the evaluation should not end at the second step of the process for evaluating a social security disability claim. When other evidence shows that the person cannot perform his or her past relevant work because of the unique features of that work, further evaluation must be conducted.
Combination of Impairments
In many situations, it is not just one condition that prevents a person from being able to work. Thus, the Social Security Administration (SSA) must consider the combined effect of all your impairments without regard to whether any one impairment, if considered separately, would be of sufficient severity. Although one of your non-severe impairments standing alone may not significantly limit a claimant’s ability to do basic work activities, it may, when considered with limitations or restrictions due to other impairments, be critical to the determination of whether you have a severe combination of impairments. This requirement is not met when an ALJ considers each impairment separately and makes a determination that your impairment is not severe, but makes only a single conclusory statement regarding your combination of impairments.
Burden of Proof
As the person proving that you qualify for social security disability, you have the burden of establishing the presence of a severe impairment. You must establish that your impairments, or combination of impairments, significantly limit your ability to perform basic work activities. However, you are not required that prove a doubt-free claim.
Once a claimant proves that he is severely impaired and is unable to perform any past relevant work, the burden shifts to the SSA to prove that there is alternative employment in the national economy suitable to the claimant. More on this to follow in a subsequent blog article.
Judge’s Determination of Severe Impairment
The social security disability administrative law judge’s (ALJ) conclusion as to whether you do or do not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments must be supported by substantial evidence. When there is evidence contrary to the ALJ’s conclusion, he or she must make the reasoning as to why this evidence should not be considered. An ALJ may not selectively rely on portions of a medical opinion or other medical evidence that support his or her decision and disregard contradictory material without a detailed, rational explanation for doing so.
Where there was no indication in your medical records of any condition that significantly limited your ability to perform basic work tasks, then the not disabled decision because of no severe impairment would be appropriate.
Remember, proving that you have a severe impairment in step 2 of the sequential evaluation does not mean that you qualify for social security disability. You will still need to go through the future steps so stay tuned to my blog articles addresses the future step in determining whether you qualify for social security disability.
Gathering the necessary documentation to prove that you have a severe impairment or combination of impairments is not an easy process. It is important that you consult with an attorney who understands the law and process needed to qualify for social security disability benefits. Attorney Matthew Noyes and Lorrie Robinson have been helping claimants fight for security disability benefits for many years. If fact, they wrote a book about it. Get your free copy of their book, Guide to the Battle for Social Security Disability Benefits, here or call their office at 727-796-8282.