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Many people believe that, before applying for Social Security Disability (SSD), a doctor’s recommendation is enough. Yet, the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Sequential Evaluation Process not only requires more information to support your doctor’s diagnosis, but goes through multiple steps to prove you’re impaired and unable to work.
As such, if your physical or mental impairment doesn’t exactly equal or match one described in the Listing of Impairments – also known as the Blue Book – the SSA then evaluates your residual functional capacity (RFC), using what’s known as the “grid rules.” These factors indicate whether you’re “disabled” or “not disabled,” with age being the lens through which the SSA views these multiple variables and determines their outcomes.
When the SSA looks at these qualifiers, how old or young you are can impact whether or not you’ll be approved for SSD.
Understanding the Grid
To establish your RFC, the SSA uses five categories based on exertion level and an individual’s physical limits to work:
- Very Heavy
Within the grid system, the SSA factors in the claimant’s education, past relevant work experience and transferrable skills – all evaluated on potential employment opportunities and age – to decide. As a result, using both the grid and medical-vocational guidelines, the SSA is more likely to approve older claimants who are unable to find a job, have a reduced employment capacity because of limited education or can’t perform certain types of work because of their current condition.
Under Age 50
With these factors in mind, the SSA further divides its claimants by age:
- 18 to 44: You’re evaluated as “young” individuals who, even with limited education and reduced physical capacity, have more employment prospects.
- 45 to 49: The SSA still considers you a “younger” individual.
- 50 to 54: You’re said to be “approaching advanced age.”
- 55 to 59: Claimants are classified as “advanced age.”
- Over 60: You’re “closely approaching retirement age” and, as a result, the SSA considers that your working years are ending and you’ll soon be eligible for retirement.
The SSA considers anyone under age 18 to be a child. In response, your claim is evaluated under a different set of standards. Particularly, approval tends to be more contingent on whether or not you have “marked and severe” limitations, rather than your immediate ability to work.
Age 50 to 60
If you fall within this group, the grid system often leads to a disability determination through one or more of the following:
- Sedentary work is your only option.
- You have less than a high school diploma.
- The jobs you’ve held for the past 15 years are considered “unskilled,” “semi-skilled” or “non-transferrable” to other forms of work.
Additionally, claimants of “advanced age” may also be awarded SSD based on the “worn-out worker” rule: Specifically, you worked for at least 35 years in a heavy physical occupation, your education is at a 6th grade level or less and you can no longer perform this type of job.
Due to these factors, even if the grid shows that you’re not disabled, you can continue pursuing your claim in the same direction by:
- Showing your physical or mental limitations prevent you from doing the type of work the SSA says you can do. For instance, if you have limited use of your hands and fingers, you can prove you don’t have the physical capabilities to do a sit-down, light-labor office job.
- Reversing the grid’s determination by showing your functional limitations get in the way of using your transferrable skills.
- Proving a combination of exertional and non-exertional limitations prevents you from holding a job.
Over Age 60
When the SSA considers you “approaching retirement age,” it continues using the same grid system, but makes the following exceptions:
- It’s often harder for older workers to learn new skills or adapt to new workplaces.
- Individuals age 50 to 60 who are limited to sedentary or light work may still be classified as “non-disabled.” However, those over 60 and without a high school diploma are automatically considered disabled.
For adults who fall within this range, getting your claim approved may involve showing:
- You have non-exertional limitations, such as tremors and postural problems.
- You have memory and cognitive problems.
- Your skills from past jobs are non-transferrable to the modern workplace.