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The Fourth Step in a Social Security Disability Case

The definition of disability is the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medical determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months (The Social Security Act). Judges deciding disability cases must follow a strict 5 step sequential evaluation to determine whether an individual is disabled or not. In this blog post we will be focusing on the fourth step of the evaluation. Step four basically focuses on whether an individual can perform any of their “past relevant work.” It is important to note that just because an individual cannot perform their current work due to their disability does not necessarily mean they are automatically disabled. The judge must also determine whether the individual’s “past relevant work” can be performed based on their residual functional capacity. Therefore, the judge will first determine what is past relevant work and what the specific demands (both physical and mental) those jobs have. Past relevant work generally includes all full-time jobs the individual has performed in the past 15 years. After determining what jobs are past relevant work and what demands each of those jobs has, the judge will determine whether the individual can perform any of those jobs based on their residual functional capacity. Residual functional capacity basically determines what limitations, if any, an individual may have due to their disabilities. For example, a judge may find an individual cannot climb ropes or ladders due to the neuropathy in their legs/feet. If that individual had past work as a tree cutter then they would be unable to perform that work due to needing to the climb ropes/ladders. At step four it is important to eliminate all past work to proceed to step 5. Therefore, filling out any work history reports prior to the hearing and discussing these past jobs with your attorney is critical.

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