It seems that the disability claims of “younger individuals,” defined as anyone under the age of 50, receive more scrutiny from Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) than the claims of those over the age of 50. This is understandable since a 35-year old claimant will theoretically be drawing on the disability trust fund for another 25 years, while a 55-year old claimant will likely draw on the disability fund for only 5 to 10 years.
In reality, the law has a built in boost for older applicants. It gets easier to win as you age. The first break is given at age 50. A bigger break is give at age 55, and after age 60, it can be hard to lose. Most people see this as a built-in bias against younger workers (under age 50).
Thus, disability claimants under the age of 50 may expect greater difficulty in having their claims approved. Just the same, disability judges regularly approve younger claimants when the evidence directs a finding of disability. Younger individuals must typically demonstrate that they cannot perform any job that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. This is a heavy burden and solid medical proof is vital in these cases.
The records of a long time treating physician or specialist are optimal for supporting a finding of disability.
The main issue of a disability claim, whether the individual is over or under the age of 50 relates to the adverse impact a medical condition has on an individual’s capacity to work. When we are talking about a worker under age 50, who is not intellectually deficient, and whose medical condition does not rise to that of a Listings level impairment, such a claimant must usually demonstrate the inability to perform (and sustain) the duties of a simple, unskilled sedentary jobs. Excellent evidence (if you can get it) usually consists of statements from a treating physician identifying reasonable work limitations that are causally related to the underlying medical conditions. Contrary to popular belief, simple physician statements that “the patient is disabled” are of limited utility.
When individuals have worked consistently over a long period of time, this is a decided bonus. The implication is that the since the person has worked, he or she would continue to work if they could. Really, this is a powerful equity argument to a Judge. What is unsaid (to the ALJ) is that it makes no real sense for a younger worker to suddenly quit a job with good pay and benefits, only to gamble his or her future on the SSA allowing a claim for disability. Compare this against someone who has never worked. You don’t have this equity argument and in my experience, we have a credibility issue to overcome.
Judges also respect claimants who have tried but failed to return to work. Honest and sincere attempts to work. Even a work attempt of a few weeks can impress a judge as to a person’s work ethic. What we are really seeing here is a boost to the claimant’s credibility. In my experience, the more credible the claimant, the more inclined a Judge is to pay the case (of the proof permits such a result).
Experience shows that ALJ’s approve claims filed by any person (even younger individuals) when those claimants are afflicted by medical conditions that can be documented by objective testing. The SSA seems to love objective proof. Think: MRI, myelogram, CT scan, EMG testing, echocardiogram, Doppler blood flow studies, blood work documenting abnormal labs, etc. These can remove the guesswork in a case. Certain injuries like traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spinal stenosis, Chiari malformations, autoimmune disorders, and even Type I diabetes; these are all conditions that are subject to confirmation by objective medical tests, and most likely permanent. The degree of the condition can even be established by the testing. Think of a knee X-ray that shows severe erosion and bone on bone arthritis. That is a terrible condition, and one that is known to be excruciating. It would be unreasonable (and even cruel) to expect such a person to tolerate a job that kept him or her on their feet for any significant period of time. Such a case would have a “leg up” before we even step into a hearing.
Compare the above to syndromes or conditions that are primarily self-reported. For example: conditions like anxiety, chronic fatigue, depression, myofascial pain, migraines, sero-negative auto immune disorders, or even fibromyalgia; these conditions generate tremendous symptomology, they clearly exist, yet they have little in the way of traditional objective findings. In short, they are less apparent using objective medical testing.
Most fibro patients have a very benign physical exam, yet they are horribly functionally impaired. I have had migraine sufferers submit to botox shots, or even barbaric injections up their nostrils to escape the pain of the migraine. I typically search the medical proof to confirm the symptoms, and emphasize the extremes that a patient will endure in seeking relief. This can enhance credibility. I myself have had two neck surgeries. I understand the motivation provided by extreme pain.
In short, these conditions have an inherent degree of subjectivity. The diagnosis is usually a clinical one. These cases can clearly be won. However, in my experience, they seem to get more scrutiny and seem to require a lot of proof.
If you are under the age of 50 and considering filing a claim for social security disability benefits, keep in mind that this may be an uphill battle. You may need the assistance of an experienced disability attorney to help navigate a lengthy and complicated process. Contact the Sullivan Law Office to get the help you need in the Louisville metro area. Call 888-587-0228 or visit us online.