This is the first part of a multi-part article on applying for Social Security disability benefits over the age of fifty (50). The SSA uses a sequential analysis to adjudicate your case.  This article is not specifically about the detailed mechanics of that process.  Rather, as your case survives and moves along within the process, eventually you will have to address the question as with whether you can perform your past work.  This is one of your main hurdles, or your burden of proof (to demonstrate you cannot do your past work).  Assuming you can prove this, then the next step (before victory) is to show you cannot do any other work that exists in the economy.   This article addresses the ability to do OTHER work.

So, one of the primary considerations in determining eligibility for disability benefits is your ability to perform prior work, or your ability to adjust to some other type of work. Because it may be more difficult to adjust to a new type of work, workers age 50 and over are are treated more favorably under the  SSA’s “Grid Rules.”   Simply put, the regulations acknowledge that older workers do not get hired as easily as younger ones, and they have more issues adapting to a new job.  So, in gauging eligibility for disability benefits, the SSA’s GRID rules allow for this age issue.  The law gives it first real break at age 50 (to a lesser extent age 45), a larger break at age 55, and at age 60 it can get hard to lose.  As part of the “lawyering”, your attorney can analyse the case to try to take advantage of the GRID rules that help you, or keep you away form the GRID if it will end up dictating that you lose your case.

However, like most things legal, there are may considerations, caveats, and exceptions to analyze in making this determination. An experienced disability attorney may assist in identifying all of these variables. Although a  worker over the age of 49 may be physically capable of performing at some functional capacity, he or she may not be required to adjust to a new type of work, and thus may be eligible for disability benefits. Generally speaking, workers between the age of 50 and 54 may be eligible for benefits even if they have the capacity to perform sedentary labor; those 55 to 59 may be able to collect disability benefits even if able to perform light work; and those 60 to 64 may be eligible for benefits even if able to perform up to medium work.

The SSA’s “Medical-Vocational Guidelines” (also known as the “grid rules” because they are often listed in a table) are used to evaluate disability claims. The grid rules are designed to work in conjunction with  step five of the sequential evaluation process. Here is a quick summary of the sequential  process:

  1. Are you working? 
    If an applicant is engaged in “substantial gainful activity” then the result will be a determination that the applicant is working. Case is denied.

    2. Is your medical condition “severe”? 
    An applicant’s medical condition must be so bad that it interferes with the ability to conduct basic work related activities. The severity stage is a step to screen out minor medical problems.  It is not hard to demonstrate a severe medical impairment. Also, “unless your impairment is expected to result in death, it must have lasted or must be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months.”

    3. Does your disability meet a Listing? 
    If a condition meets one of  Social Security’s Listings or the condition is of equal severity to one of these listings, the result will be a finding of disability. This is purely a medical determination.

    4. Can you do past relevant work? 

    Social Security examines the work that an applicant has performed over the past 15 years to determine whether or not he or she can still do this particular work (or type of work). At this stage, the SSA must consider the exertional and non-exertional demands of the past work, and compare those against the claimant’s residual abilities (Residual Functional Capacity). If you an do your past work, you fail to meet your burden of proof and lose. If you cannot perform your past work (or have no past work), then the case goes on to Step 5,and the burden of proof is on the SSA at this stage of the game! Before you can get to step 5, you first have to get past step 4: i.e. demonstrate an inability to do past relevant work (Oddly, in an elevator operator case, our Supreme Court has said it does not matter if the past work no longer exists.  The only issue is your ability to perform the work).

  2. Can you do any type of work? 
    If at step four it is determined that an applicant can no longer do past relevant work (as he or she did it or as it is performed in the national economy), the next query is whether the applicant has the ability to perform and/or adjust to any other type of job or work. This part of the analysis essentially includes the consideration of age, education, any medical impairments, physical condition, past work experience and any transferable job skills.

You must show that you are not able to perform your past work. If you are still capable of performing the duties of any of your past jobs within the 15 years prior to the beginning of your disability, then the Grid Rules do not apply and you lose. The GRID exceptions apply only if you can initially prove that you are unable to perform any prior relevant work.

Also, you may not actuallyApplying For Social Security Benefits Over The Age Of 50, Part 1 have been working at a substantial gainful activity (SGA) level. If it was not work at SGA levels, then it is not PRW.

In short, if you can still perform the duties of a past job, you do not get to use the grid rules and you may be denied. However, if you cannot do any past relevant work, and you meet certain GIRD requirements (age , education, lack of transferable skills), you may well  qualify to receive benefits. Stay tuned for part two which describe how the grid rules may help you.

Make sure you understand all of the steps and processes associated with applying for social security disability benefits. Retain the services of a qualified Kentucky Social Security Disability attorney. Contact Sullivan Law Office today. We offer free consultations, so you have absolutely nothing to lose! We look forward to hearing from you. Call 888-587-0228 or visit us online.