Step 2 - "Are you seeing a doctor?"

Step 2 requires a person applying for disability benefits to have what Social Security calls a "Medically Determinable Impairment."  So, what's a "Medically Determinable Impairment?"  Here is Social Security's definition: 

A “medically determinable” physical or mental impairment is an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities, which can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. A physical or mental impairment must be established by objective medical evidence from an acceptable medical source. Objective medical evidence is signs, laboratory findings, or both. We will not use your statement of symptoms, a diagnosis, or a medical opinion to establish the existence of an impairment(s).

That's a lot of info so lets break it down: 

  • An "impairment" results from some kind of physical or mental abnormality. A physical impairment is a condition that causes you physical harm; i.e., degenerative disc disease, fibromyalgia, arthritis, HIV, etc. A psychological impairment is a condition causing harm to your mental health; i.e., depression, bipolar disease, anxiety, etc.  

  • The problem has to be shown to exist by objective medical evidence: X-Rays; MRI's, blood tests, psychological tests.  

  • The person making the diagnosis of the problem must be an "acceptable medical source"; i.e., a licensed physician, a licensed psychologist, a licensed advanced practice registered nurse (APRN).

  • Objective medical evidence consist of "signs": physical examinations, psychological tests, and "laboratory findings":  X-Rays, MRI's, lab test results. 

  • Symptoms alone without objective medical documentation won't cut it - just saying, "I am in pain" or even a doctor's letter stating you have a medical problem is not enough to establish the existence of a "medically determinable impairment."  You must have medical records documenting the condition.

The last two requirements of a  "medically determinable impairment" are:

  • The condition has to be "severe" which means the condition creates problems that interfere with a person's ability to perform basic work activities such as being on time for work, taking only regularly scheduled breaks, and being able to stay focused on the task at hand; and

  • The condition has to have lasted 12 months or be expected to last 12 months or is terminal. 

For more information see: 20 C.F.R. Section 404.1520(a)(4)(ii).