Also see the other videos in our Social Security Disability Video Library: Are You Likely to Qualify for Disability Benefits?, What Not to Do at Your Disability Hearing, How to Be Persuasive at Your Hearing, How to Best Describe Your Daily Activities, When You Have Physical Impairments and Mental Limitations, and Can You Work Part-Time?

Recommended articles: What to Expect in the Hearing Room, Washington Disability Appeals

Answers for Washington State disability claimants seeking Social Security disability benefits from an experienced Washington disability lawyer

Washington State disability claimants are often uncertain of how the Social Security disability evaluation process works and have many questions: Will I qualify for Social Security disability benefits? How do I apply for Social Security disability benefits? Why was my disability claim denied? How do I appeal? What will happen at my appeal hearing?

This 100-page website was created to answer those questions and many others about the Washington Social Security disability application and appeals process.

Will I qualify for Washington Social Security disability benefits?

This is the first question I am usually asked by potential claimants. You must be found to be “disabled” to qualify for Social Security disability benefits in Washington State and nationwide. Social Security law has its own definition of “disabled.” Different government programs have different definitions of “disability.” For example, someone may be “disabled” pursuant to the requirements of the Workers Compensation program, but may not be disabled under the requirements of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ benefits program.

For the purposes of Social Security law, you are disabled if you are unable to do your previous work as a result of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, or combination of impairments, which has lasted or is expected to last at least twelve consecutive months, or end in death, taking into account your age, education, and work experience.

The Social Security Administration in Washington State and nationwide will use a five-step sequential evaluation process to apply the definition of disabled to your case. The five-step process can be complex and involves a detailed analysis. The five steps are summarized here:

Step 1 – Are you gainfully employed? You will not be found disabled if you are doing “substantial gainful activity.” Substantial gainful activity means work that involves more than minimal duties and pays more than an amount specified by the Social Security Administration. If you are not gainfully employed, move on to Step 2.

Step 2 – Do you have a severe impairment? You will not be found disabled if you do not have a severe impairment. An impairment or combination of impairments is severe if it significantly limits your mental or physical ability to do basic work activities, such as remembering simple instructions or lifting, pushing, pulling, reaching or carrying. If you have a severe impairment, go on to Step 3.

Step 3 – Do have a listed impairment? You will be found disabled if your impairment meets or equals in severity one of the impairments described in the Social Security regulations known as the Listing of Impairments. If you do not meet this requirement, you may be found disabled pursuant to Steps 4 and 5.

Step 4 – Can you do your last jobs? You will not be found disabled if you can still do your “past relevant work.” To meet this requirement, you must be unable to do the easiest job you have done in the last 15 years, even if you would never be hired for it today, or the job no longer exists. If you cannot do your past relevant work, move on to Step 5.

Step 5 – Can you do other work? You will not be found disabled if you can do other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national or local economy, considering your age, education, work experience, and remaining work capacity. If you are capable of doing easier jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national or local economy, you will not be found disabled.

For Step 5, the burden is on the Social Security Administration to show that there are other jobs in the national or local economy that you can do. This does not necessarily mean that you would be hired for such a job. Nor does it mean that the Social Security Administration in Washington State will help you find a job. It simply means that they will try to determine if there is a theoretical job out there that you can do.

In addition to the above five steps, to be found disabled, your disability must last for 12 continuous months (or be expected to last that long) or be expected to result in death. It is important to remember that even if you have a disability, this does not guarantee the Social Security Administration will find you “disabled.” To learn more about qualifying for Social Security disability benefits, see my video Are you likely to qualify for Washington Social Security disability benefits?

If you meet the requirements above and you have paid Social Security taxes over a long enough period of time and paid such taxes recently enough, you have a good chance of being approved for Washington State Social Security disability benefits. If you are disabled but have not paid Social Security taxes, you may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income benefits. For more information, see Washington Social Security disability vs. SSI.

Does my age affect whether I qualify for Washington disability benefits?

An older Washington disability claimant has better odds than a younger Washington disability claimant of being awarded Social Security disability benefits. The same is true anywhere in the United States. Social Security regulations make it easier to qualify for Social Security disability benefits for a few people at age 45 (those who are illiterate), for more people at age 50, for most people at age 55, and even more people at age 60.

The Social Security Administration considers age at Step 5 of its five-step evaluation process summarized above. At Step 5, the Social Security Administration considers if you can perform other work that exists in significant numbers in the economy. This requires adaptability on the part of the individual. Generally, as you grow older you become less adaptable –- and less able to switch to a different job as a result of your disability.

You may be medically eligible to receive Social Security disability benefits in Washington State regardless of your age. However, if you are over age 50, it is important to understand the Social Security Administration’s special guidelines and presumptions for those over 50. As an experienced Washington disability attorney, I understand how to use these special regulations to help win disability benefits for Washington disability claimants over 50. For my Washington disability claimants under 50, we work together to build a strong case that proves what is necessary to be awarded Social Security disability benefits.

For more information about how an individual’s age may affect his or her Social Security disability case, see Does my age matter?

Should I appeal if my initial application for Washington Social Security disability benefits is denied?

Yes. If your initial application is denied, failing to appeal is a big mistake. Most initial applications for disability benefits are denied. Two-thirds of initial applications for Social Security disability benefits in Washington State and nationally are denied, but over half of those who appeal are ultimately awarded disability benefits.

Receiving a denial of your initial application is the first step towards an appeal hearing, which is where you will have the best odds of being awarded Washington Social Security disability benefits. The Social Security disability process favors appellants over applicants.

The main reason for this is that the denial of your initial application is based only on a Washington Social Security disability examiner’s review of your file. The examiner doesn’t have the opportunity to hear from you and your witnesses in person. When you appeal, you will have a disability hearing before a Social Security judge where, with the assistance of your Washington disability lawyer, you will have the opportunity to appear in person before the judge and explain your impairment(s) in your own words. This helps Washington disability appellants win Social Security disability benefits.

If you believe you cannot work, you should appeal the denial of your initial application. I can help you appeal the denial of your application. For more information about appealing, see Appealing a Denial of Washington Disability Benefits, a free downloadable e-booklet about appealing a denial.

Experienced Washington disability lawyer available to assist with your Washington Social Security disability application or appeal

I represent Washington disability claimants at every stage of a Social Security claim, from initial application to litigation in federal court. I also handle veterans’ disability benefit cases. For more information about veterans’ disability benefits, see Veterans’ Disability Benefits.

The process of applying for Social Security benefits is frustrating for most disability claimants; and most people are denied their benefits at the initial phases of their case. If you retain me, I will aggressively advocate for your right to receive disability benefits. I will also keep informed of the status of your case and explain to you the Social Security disability process. If you think I can help you with your Washington Social Security disability claim or appeal, please complete the form to the right or contact me at:

Truitt & Lyons, Attorneys at Law
Christopher Lyons, Esq.
Washington Social Security disability attorney
E-mail me

640 E. Whidbey Avenue
Oak Harbor, Washington 98277
Toll-free: 1-888-615-2050
Local: 360-675-9310

Representing Washington State Social Security disability claimants and veterans with disability benefits claims throughout Western Washington.