Our experience has been that if you are age 50 or over, you have a built in advantage when you file for Social Security disability. Even if you are slightly younger – perhaps 49 ½ – those advantages still apply.
You may already be aware of a special set of rules that apply to some (but not all) disability claimants over the age of 50. These rules are called the “grid rules” and they apply to applicants over the age of 50, who have a limited education and limited work skills. However you still benefit from your age even if the grid rules do not apply. Here’s what we advise our clients.
Are You a Fit with the Grid Rules?
Our starting point for all claimants over the age of 50 involves a look at the grid rules. By the way, Social Security lawyers and judges call these rules “the grid rules,” but the technical name for these regulations is the “medical-vocational guidelines.” You can find the grid rules at Appendix 2 to Subpart P of Part 404 at 20 C.F.R. Section 404, or you can visit our much easier to use website www.gridrules.net.
Basically, the grid rules recognize that workers who are age 50 or over, who have a high school or less education and who have limited work skills will have a much more difficult time finding entry level work than younger workers. So, you can be found disabled even if you still have some capacity to work, but there are no jobs that exist for you.
One more important consideration: the grid rules only apply to your physical medical issues. In other words we can use the grid rules to get you approved for your back or neck injuries, but we cannot use the grid rules to argue for disability based on depression.
Examples of Grid Rule Approvals
Here are some examples of past clients for whom we have won approval based on the grid rules:
- Theresa is a 57 year female with a high school education and past work as a cleaner for a housekeeping service. She underwent triple bypass heart surgery and suffered a number of complications that required additional surgery. Theresa’s capacity to stand and walk is less than an hour a day and she cannot lift more than 5 lbs. We won a favorable decision based on Grid Rule 202.06.
- Sandra is a 52 year old female with a GED and past work as a nursing assistant. Following a bad car accident, Sandra has chronic back pain, with numbness in her legs. We won a favorable decision based on Grid Rule 201.14.
- Stan is a 51 year old male with a high school education and past work as a cylinder press operator. Following a bi-lateral hip replacement, Stan cannot stand and walk for more than a few minutes at a time. He also has a bulging disc in his neck which limits his capacity to turn his head. We won a favorable decision based on Grid Rule 201.14.
Do the Grid Rules Apply to You?
There are several factors that we will look at when applying the grid rules in your case:
- your age – with very limited exception, you first become eligible for the grid rules at age 50. When you turn 55, your grid rule eligibility expands.
- your education – workers with a high school or less education are eligible for approval under more grid rules, but even college educated claimants can be approved under many of these guidelines
- your past work – workers with an unskilled background have more eligibility. If you have a wide variety of skills that would allow you to transition into a job with no physical demands, the grid rules may not apply to you. In other words, construction workers are more likely to fit, whereas secretaries and data entry clerks rarely fit into the grid rules
- the nature of your limitations – as discussed above, the grid rules only apply if you have limitations to your capacity for physical activity – i.e., limitations in sitting, standing, walking, lifting, carrying, crouching, kneeling, stooping, climbing, etc. Non-physical limitations like anxiety, depression, hearing loss, vision loss, etc. do not qualify you under the grid rules.
What if You are Over Age 50 and the Grid Rules do not Apply?
The grid rules do not apply to every disability claimant over age 50. You may have a “non-exertional” impairmant – such as depression, anxiety or a vision or hearing problem that does not impact your capacity to perform physical work. You may be highly educated, with skills like typing or personnel management that transfer to sedentary (sit down) type of work.
Whatever the reason, you and your lawyer may review all the possibilities at www.gridrules.net and you may decide that this theory of disability does not apply, or that you want a backup argument in case the judge does not want to approve you based on these medical vocational guidelines.
If the grids don’t apply, you can still qualify for SSDI or SSI using a listing argument, or, more likely, under a functional capacity argument.
- You can read more about the listings here, but, generally, your medical record would need to document an extremely severe medical problem that fits within SSA’s listings of impairments.
Our experience has been that many listing level cases are approved early, but some do fall through the cracks and end up at a hearing.
Much more likely we would develop your record to show that your capacity for work has been so reduced by your medical issues that you would not be able to perform the duties of any type of work. This is called the functional capacity argument.
Unlike a grid rule argument, a functional capacity theory of disability includes all medical issues, including non-exertional problems, mental health issues and medication side effects – anything that would prevent you from working. Click here to read more about how the functional capacity argument works.
Further, your age, work experience and educational background do not exclude you from approval when arguing functional capacity. However, our experience has been that older individuals – especially those over the age of 50 – tend to get a more sympathetic hearing by disability administrative law judges.
- Many claimants over the age of 50 have long work histories. Judges recognize that men and women who have worked 20, 25, 30 years do not just stop, and wait 2 years for Social Security to hopefully decide that they are disabled.
- Many claimants over the age of 50 have achieved positions of responsibility, with solid earnings and professional recognition. Often such a person’s social life and sense of self worth is tied in to that person’s employment. This type of person does tends to fight the idea of leaving work and rarely seeks disability status.
- Even if the grid rules do not apply, judges recognize that a highly skilled individual with a significant health issues (especially a health issue that is visible) would have a very difficult time finding work. Such a person would likely appear over-qualified for work, especially enty-level work.
- Disability judges are under a great deal of pressure from SSA in Washington to preserve the disability trust fund. A claimant approved at age 55 will only draw on the disability trust fund for 7 or 8 more years in most cases. By contrast, an approved claimant at age 35 will draw on the disability trust fund for 25 or more years. An older claimant, therefore, is less of a burden on the solvency of Social Security.
Have You Been Thinking About Applying for Disability?
Making the decision to actually apply for disability is a big step. It is difficult financially, especially if you have worked your entire adult life and used your earnings to support yourself and your family.
It is difficult emotionally – no one likes to think of himself or herself as “disabled” and unable to work.
But if you have been struggling with a medical condition that makes it impossible for you to reliably get through a workday, it may be time.
- how does Social Security define the word “disability?”
- how do I actually file an application for disability?
- what are the proven strategies to win?
- how long is this going to take? (video answer)
- how much will I receive? (video answer)
Visit our YouTube channel to watch and hear me discuss what is working now and how you can avoid mistakes.
When you are ready, call me or email me to discuss your specific case. There is no charge to speak with me over the phone and if you want me to represent you, I handle my cases using a “no fee unless we win” contract in which I get paid 25% of past due benefits.