What Are Social Security Disability Determinations?


When you file for Social Security disability, your application is reviewed by an adjudicator working for your state's disability determination service or DDS. The adjudicator's job is to issue a disability determination on the claim. This process can take several months, and its outcome depends largely on the evidence and records you submit to support your claim of disability.

Medical Records Review

  • Disability determinations depend for the most part on medical records used by the adjudicator. These records must be current, and they must come from a certified physician. To determine that you are disabled, the adjudicator needs to see that you suffer from an illness or injury that has lasted, or is expected to last, at least 12 months and/or result in your death, and is preventing you from working and earning the substantial gainful activity amount, currently $1,000 per month before taxes.

Residual Functional Capacity

  • Residual functional capacity or RFC forms a key part of the disability determination. This means your ability to fulfill the physical demands --- such as lifting, carrying, bending, long-term standing --- of your past relevant work. If your doctor's records show a limited capacity for these physical activities, your claim is more likely to be approved.

Vocational Retraining

  • The prospects for retraining for different work also enters into the disability determination. Although you may have a physical disability, the adjudicator must estimate your chances of retraining for another career, one that does not place physical demands on you. If you have a good educational background, you are less likely to be adjudged disabled; advanced age also supports a claim of permanent disability.

Notice of Decision

  • When the adjudicator has completed the medical review, the claim is submitted for another review by a medical doctor. A disability determination is then reached, and the claim is returned to the field office handling the claim, which issues a Notice of Disability Determination that will explain the decision and your rights to appeal. If your claim is denied, you have 60 days to appeal the determination.


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