After it has been determined that a claimant is not currently performing Substantial Gainful Activity, the next step is to see if she has a “severe impairment.” If she does not have a severe impairment under the regulations, then she cannot be found to be disabled.
Medically Determinable Impairment
To have a severe impairment, a claimant must first have a “medically determinable impairment.” The easiest way to think about this is that you must have a valid diagnosis to explain your complaints and symptoms. For example, I have had many clients that come in complaining of “back pain.” This simply describes my client’s symptoms, and without more, the case will be denied. Instead, the Administration will need to see a diagnosis like degenerative disc disease or lumbar radiculopathy to explain these symptoms.
Significant Limitation On Ability To Work
The Social Security Administration defines a severe impairment as:
At step 2 of the sequential evaluation process, an impairment or combination of impairments is considered "severe" if it significantly limits an individual's physical or mental abilities to do basic work activities; an impairment(s) that is "not severe" must be a slight abnormality (or a combination of slight abnormalities) that has no more than a minimal effect on the ability to do basic work activities.
See Social Security Ruling 96-3p. (http://www.socialsecurity.gov/OP_Home/rulings/di/01/SSR96-03-di-01.html).
This is designed to be a threshold standard to weed out minor physical ailments. However, even minor ailments in combination can be significant to meet this step.
Although an impairment is not severe if it has no more than a minimal effect on an individual's physical or mental ability(ies) to do basic work activities, the possibility of several such impairments combining to produce a severe impairment must be considered.
See Social Security Ruling 85-28. (http://www.socialsecurity.gov/OP_Home/rulings/di/01/SSR85-28-di-01.html).
Additionally, these impairments must last for twelve continuous months. This is commonly referred to as the “durational requirement.” This requirement is a frequently used method by DDS agencies in Tennessee and Mississippi in issuing denials. Essentially, this allows the Administration to determine that even though a claimant is currently unable to work because of a major health problem, the problem is expected to have essentially resolved within a year of its onset. The most troubling use of this rule is its application to cancer. The Administration takes the position that this condition will resolve within 12 months. So, even if a claimant is in chemotherapy at the time of her application, she will almost automatically be denied.