Step 2: Social Security Severe Impairment: Definition and Explanation

Social Security Disability Severe Impairment

The second step of the Social Security disability test for disability (sequential evaluation process) is whether or not you have a severe impairment. If it is found that you have a severe impairment or impairments then you move to step three of the Social Security disability test. If it is found that your impairment(s) is not severe then you'll be found not disabled at this step.  This is described in CFR Section 404.1520 “You must have a severe impairment. If you do not have any impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limits your physical or mental ability to do basic work activities, we will find that you do not have a severe impairment and are, therefore, not disabled. We will not consider your age, education, and work experience. However, it is possible for you to have a period of disability for a time in the past even though you do not now have a severe impairment.”

Social Security Definition of Severe Impairment

How does Social Security define severe impairment in a Social Security disability or SSI claim? In plain English, if you have a medical condition or several medical conditions that cause significant limitations on your ability to do things then you'll probably be found to have a “severe” impairment. It is extremely rare in a Social Security disability claim to be denied for not having a severe impairment.  SSR 96-3p states an impairment (medical condition) is severe if it “significantly limits an individual’s physical or mental abilities to do basic work activities.” SSR 96-3p defines a non-severe impairment as “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.” What is important to know is that not all your medical conditions must be considered severe to avoid being denied at this step. If at least one of your impairments is considered severe, then you will continue to step three of the process.

There is one more thing I feel is worth mentioning about severe versus non-severe impairments. If you get past this step, because you have at least one severe impairment, it is significant to note that your impairments that were considered non-severe may still be very relevant to your SSD or SSI claim going forward. This is explained in SSR 96-8P “In assessing RFC, the adjudicator must consider limitations and restrictions imposed by all of an individual’s impairments, even those that are not ‘severe.’  While a ‘not severe’ impairment(s) standing alone may not significantly limit an individual’s ability to do basic work activities, it may--when considered with limitations or restrictions due to other impairments--be critical to the outcome of a claim.  For example, in combination with limitations imposed by an individual’s other impairments, the limitations due to such a “not severe” impairment may prevent an individual from performing past relevant work or may narrow the range of other work that the individual may still be able to do.”  So all impairments both severe and non severe must be considered in your SSDI claim but you must have atleast one severe impairment to continue to the next step of the Social Security Disability test, otherwise you will be found not disabled at this step.