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What's process is used to determine who gets disability benefits?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses a five-step graduated vetting process to determine whether an individual has a qualifying disability. It has to prevent them from working before deciding if they should receive a monthly stipend to help them afford their basic expenses.

When you fill out your application for benefits, one of the first things that you'll be asked by the SSA is whether you're working and, if so, how much you earn. If you generate in excess of $1,220 per month, then the SSA will determine that you're not disabled.

Individuals who are unemployed will automatically have their applications sent to Disability Determination Services (DDS).

Step two involves DDS determining how severe that your injury or illness is. If it adversely impacts your ability to remember, stand, sit, lift or walk, then they'll want to know if it's expected to last for more than 12 months. If it is, then your application will be moved on to stage three.

The Missouri analyst who reviews your file will search for your illness or injury on a list of medical conditions and look to see how serious it is.

Claims filed by individuals in St. Louis with conditions such as pancreatic cancer, Lou Gehrig's disease and acute leukemia may qualify for expedited processing of their claim under the Compassionate Allowances Program.

During step four, your file's reviewer will try to determine whether your impairment makes it impossible for you to perform the same type of work that you did in the past.

Step five involves the reviewer making a determination whether there's some other type of work role that you can do despite being impaired. They'll take into account factors such as your past educational and work experience and age when determining whether you can take on another role.

What many of us may consider to be a severe impairment may not be seen the same way by the SSA. Even if the reviewer agrees that a condition is disabling, they may not find that it prevents you from working. An attorney can help you gather together all the necessary evidence to document how serious your impairment is and how it impacts your ability to make a living.

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