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  • Writer's pictureJustin S. Raines

What is Disability Determination Services, and what does it do?

If you apply for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits (SSD, SSDI, or DIB) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, your local Social Security Administration (SSA) field office will determine if you are performing substantial gainful activity (SGA) at step one of the five-step sequential analysis.

But for steps two through five, the SSA will send your file to an agency in your state called Disability Determination Services (DDS). DDS will then decide the medical issues in your case by answering these questions:

Step 2: Does the person have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) that is severe? If no, the person is not disabled.

Step 3: Does the person have an impairment(s) that meets or medically equals a listing in the Listing of Impairments (listings)? If yes and the impairment(s) meets the duration requirement, the person is disabled.

Step 4: Does the person have the residual functional capacity (RFC) to do past relevant work? If yes, the person is not disabled.

Step 5: Does the person have the RFC to adjust to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, considering his or her age, education, and previous work experience? If no, the person is disabled. If yes, the person is not disabled.

DDS makes these decisions by obtaining your treating medical records and scheduling consultative examinations. To decide what your physical and mental impairments and resulting limitations are, DDS also employs doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists to review the medical evidence in your case.

These DDS physicians are called non-treating, non-examining sources because they do not treat you for your physical illness or injury nor examine you in any way. Based solely on the medical records and opinions in your case, these DDS physicians decide whether you have a severe impairment, whether you meet or equal a listing, and your RFC.

DDS makes these decisions after you file an application for disability benefits and the first appeal, called a request for reconsideration.

Once you get to a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) or the Appeals Council (AC), the decisions from the DDS physicians are treated as expert medical opinions. The ALJ and AC must consider that they are limited opinions because the DDS physicians never treated or even examined the claimant.

DDS plays a limited role at the ALJ and AC level. But if there is a need for further medical evidence, such as a consultative examination, DDS will arrange to have it performed and then send the results to the ALJ or AC.

If you have a severe physical or mental illness or injury, you should consult with an attorney experienced in Social Security disability for help and advice proving your case.

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