Step 3 of Social Security's 5-step sequential evaluation process is a determination whether or not a disability claimant "meets or equals a listing." The Social Security Administration has regulations describing more than 150 categories of medical conditions. These are called "listed impairments," or “listings.” The listed impairments are medical conditions that are severe enough to presumptively preclude a person from working. If you “meet or equal a listing” you will be granted benefits, without the necessity of proceeding to steps 4 and 5 of the sequential evaluation process.
An official from the Social Security Administration spoke at a recent conference I attended. He said that 10 or so years ago, 90% of all the disability claims were decided based on the listings. Today, however, just 50% of the claims are decided based on the listings. That's a big change, but what does it mean for you?
It means that the most obvious disability claims are still determined according to the listings, and can often be resolved at the initial or reconsideration level. But the remaining 50% of the claims - the ones that are not determined according to the listings - are much more complicated. Those claims will be decided according to your ability to do your past relevant work (step 4 of the sequential evaluation process) and your ability to do other work (step 5 of the sequential evaluation process). Those claims probably will require a hearing before an administrative law judge. At that hearing, it is critical to know the medical-vocational guidelines and how to handle the testimony of a vocational expert.
These are the difficult cases. An experienced Social Security attorney, who is familiar with the administrative law judges in your area and the vocational experts that testify at these administrative hearings, will improve the likelihood that you receive the disability benefits you deserve.