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Are You Over 50 Years Old? You Can Receive Disability Benefits Using the Medical-Vocational Guidelines
Applying for disability when you’re over 50 may be a bit easier to receive. The SSA is usually at least a bit more lenient when approving disability for older workers. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the “typical” SSD beneficiary is in his or her late 50’s. About 75 percent of all SSD recipients are over the age of 50, and almost 35 percent are 60 or older.
These disability recipients largely suffer from debilitating physical disorders. Mental disabilities can also qualify for SSD, including mood disorders and mental disorders associated with TBI. If you are over the age of 50 and disabled, it could be beneficial to speak to a knowledgeable Social Security Disability attorney. The Carmichael Law Group can help you apply for SSD or represent you during an appeal.
How is Social Security Disability Different for Those Over the Age of 50?
As we age, our bodies become less resistant to illness and injury. This makes it much more likely that older workers will suffer a disability that prevents them from working. Although disability benefits are not particularly generous, they can help a disabled worker pay basic expenses (The “average” amount of SSD is $1,277, although the amount can range from $800-$1,800).
One of the chief considerations in SSD eligibility is whether you can do the same work you did prior to your disability. The SSA will also consider whether you can adjust to doing another type of work. The SSA recognizes that adjusting to a new type of work can be much more difficult for a person over the age of 50. For this reason, the Social Security Administration’s “grid” is more favorable to older workers.
What Is Residual Functional Capacity?
Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) refers to the maximum level of work you can do despite your disability. After all medical records are examined the RFC of an applicant is assessed. The goal of the RFC is to identify how your disability and resulting limitations prevent you from performing work requirements. A Disability Determination Services physician usually completes the RFC questionnaire.
Your chances of receiving SSD benefits are greatly increased if your own doctor fills out the RFC questionnaire. If your doctor fills out the RFC it is important that he or she be as thorough as possible. The more medical evidence presented, the better your chance of approval. Your doctor will detail the impact your disability has on your daily life—both work and leisure activities. Your attorney can ensure your RFC is accurate and will help you receive disability benefits over 50.
How Do Vocational Factors Affect the Disability Evaluation?
When determining whether to approve a disability application, SSA will consider vocational factors (age, education, job history, etc.). Social Security does not pay for partial disability or short-term disability—only total disability. SSA determines whether you are disabled by asking the following five questions:
- Are you currently working? If you are working, and you are consistently making more than $1,310 per month, you will probably not be considered disabled.
- Does your disability prevent you from performing basic work-related activities (walking, standing, sitting, remembering)? In short, is your condition considered “severe?”
- Does your disabling medical condition meet or equal the severity of a listing found in the Blue Book list of medical conditions?
- Are you able to do the work you did prior to your disability?
- Can you make an adjustment to do any other type of work?
Vocational factors will affect numbers 4 and 5. Past work is relevant to the SSA if your work was performed no more than 15 years prior to your claim. As an example, you may have been a roofer 20 years ago—a job that requires lifting, climbing, stamina, and balance. However, if you have been working in an office for the past five years, the SSA is likely to ask whether you can perform your most recent job. The job must have lasted long enough for you to learn the associated tasks and must have constituted SGA (Substantial Gainful Activity). At this first level, your age and education are not considerations.
If, however, your vocational evidence does not establish whether you can perform past relevant work you will proceed to the next step. The SSA will determine whether you fall into any of the three special medical-vocational profiles. This step could all step 5 to be pre-empted because your combination of age, education, and work experience are “unfavorable” for other work. These special medical-vocational profiles include:
- Arduous Unskilled Work—You have performed at least 35 years of “arduous, unskilled work,” and are unable to continue this work because you have a severe mental or physical disability. You must also have no more than “marginal” education (no formal schooling past the 6th grade).
- No work experience at all. For this profile, you must be over the age of 55, have no more than “limited” education (formal schooling grades 7-11), and no work experience.
- Lifetime commitment—This profile requires a lifetime commitment (30 years or more) to a field of work that is unskilled, skilled, or semi-skilled. The work must have no transferable skills, you must have a severe disability, be over the age of 60, and have only limited education.
If you are able to perform your past relevant work, your claim could be denied. If you are unable to perform your past relevant work the question becomes whether you could perform a different type of work. Age, education, and work experience are under consideration to determine your “occupational base.” This term covers an estimated number of occupations you could potentially perform given your physical or mental limitations.
Age is a consideration because it can affect your ability to adapt to a new work situation. While education and training can provide certain abilities, the period between your formal education and the start of your disability are relevant. If your acquired skills are considered non-transferable, you may be considered capable of adjusting only to unskilled work. Transferability applies only to jobs that require the same or fewer skills. This is because claimants are not expected or required to do more complex work than they did in their prior jobs.
If you are deemed capable of performing another type of work, your application for disability could be denied. If this is the case, the SSA will likely cite three examples of jobs you could potentially perform. Those with limited education are probably more likely to collect SSD benefits. People with a limited education and skills usually perform more physical work and could be less able to switch to an office job. The Social Security Administration uses four categories of “functioning capacity,” which are:
- Sedentary—no requirements to lift more than 10 pounds;
- Light—You must lift 10 pounds frequently, while occasionally lifting up to 20 pounds;
- Medium—You frequently lift 25, while occasionally lifting up to 50 pounds, and
- Heavy—You frequently lift more than 50 pounds.
When combined with age, the above functioning capacities can make a difference. As an example, even if you can perform sedentary labor, if you are between 50 and 54 you may be eligible for SSD benefits. Even if you can perform light work if you are between 55 and 59 you could be approved for SSD benefits. If you are 60-64, you could be able to collect SSD benefits even if you are able to perform medium work.
How Does the Medical-Vocational Grid Work in Favor of Those Over 55?
A set of tables known as the Medical-vocational guidelines grid helps to classify claimant eligibility. This grid considers Residual Functional Capacity, age, education, and past relevant work. As a quick example a disability claimant that is younger than 50, has education, training, and/or transferable job skills along with a nonrestrictive RFC would be unlikely to qualify for disability benefits. Grid rules can help an older claimant be approved for disability benefits via a medical-vocational allowance. Grid rules are usually only considered once it is determined you are unable to perform work done in your recent past.
Your age group will fall into one of the following categories:
- 18-49 (younger individuals);
- 50-54 (closely approaching “advanced” age);
- 55 and older (advanced age), and
- 60 and older (close to retirement age).
There is a specific grid for those 60 and older. On this grid you will find your RFC description, then the row that describes your education and prior work experience. The final column shows the decision SSA will likely make based on those factors. If you are over the age of 60 you may ask why you would apply for disability when you are close to receiving regular SS. It is worth the effort to apply for disability because the benefits are usually more than for straight SS.
Your education will come into play on either grid. If you graduated high school yet recently completed a post-secondary training program your education level is high school graduate or more with training for skilled work. As an example, a 57-year-old woman with a high school diploma might be denied disability if she recently received certification as a nail technician prior to her back injury.
The SSA classifies jobs as unskilled, semi-skilled, or skilled. Those who have a history of only unskilled labor are more likely to be approved for SSD benefits. A factory worker whose job is only to sort parts might be considered to be in an unskilled job. A waitress might be classified as having a semi-skilled job. A paralegal would fall into the skilled job category. Skill levels factor in how long it takes to fully learn the job, and whether any specialized education is required for the job.
If you previously worked in a skilled or semi-skilled position, the SSA will determine whether you have any transferable skills. The more transferable skills you have, the less likely you are to be awarded SSD benefits. There are instances, however, while your job may have required skills so specific that they do not transfer to another job. As an example, you may be a highly skilled seamstress, but those skills fail to transfer to other types of work.
Additional Examples of How the Grid Might Work for Disability Benefits Over 50
Below are just a few examples of how the grid might or might not benefit your disability application:
- If you are between the ages of 50 and 54, you have fewer educational advancements, and you are considered skilled or semi-skilled with non-transferable skills, the SSA would consider you disabled.
- If you have the same education and skills as above, but you have transferable skills, the SSA would not consider you disabled.
- If you are an unskilled high school graduate between the ages of 50 and 54 with no transferable skills, the SSA would consider you disabled.
- The claimant is 52 years old. She files for disability based on heart disease. The woman has a high-school education and has worked as a factory sorter (unskilled work). The grid considers approaching advanced age, no recent job training, and only unskilled work experience, finding the woman disabled.
- A male 50-year-old applicant has a back injury, a high-school education, and worked as a truck driver (considered semi-skilled work by SSA). The applicant had transferable skills, however—skills he could use in another position. Taking into account approaching advanced age, and using grid rules for light work, the SSA denied the disability application. It was determined this claimant had job skills that would transfer to less physical work.
If your RFC is for heavy or very heavy work, the grid rules are not used by the SSA under the theory that if you can do very heavy work you can also do heavy work, medium work, light work, or sedentary work.
How the Carmichael Law Group Can Help You Receive SSD
If you are disabled and concerned about applying for disability when you’re over 50, a highly experienced SSD attorney from the Carmichael Law Group can help! We have extensive experience regarding every process associated with Social Security Disability. We can help you fill out your initial application or assist you with an appeal. No matter your current situation, we can help you receive the disability benefits you need and deserve. Contact the Carmichael Law Group today!