When an applicant files a claim for disability benefits, the SSA (Social Security Administration) evaluates the case using what are known as the “Grid Rules.” These rules make it possible for SSA examiners to uniformly evaluate each disability case. You may only use these rules if you have a physical limitation. Purely mental health problems or a pain diagnosis without lifting and standing restrictions will not allow use of the grid rules. Working with a disability attorney that is knowledgeable and experienced in understanding and interpreting these rules ensures that you have the best chance of successfully filing a disability application.
While many of the SSA’s rules and regulations address the evaluation of medical information, it has published other rules and regulations known as the “medical-vocational guidelines.” These guidelines focus on a claimant’s age, education and work background more so than medical problems. Because they are laid out in five columns, many, if not most, disability attorneys, examiners, and ALJs refer to these rules as the “grid rules.”
The grid rules are based upon a simple idea. The SSA recognizes that individuals have a harder time finding a job as they get older. More specifically, employers are less likely to offer an entry level job to someone age 50 or older. Education and skills affect this premise as the less education or fewer job skills someone has, the harder it will be to find employment. The grid rules (attempt to) codify these vocational realities. The SSA refers to this as making a “vocational adjustment.”
To account for the difficulty older claimants may have making vocational adjustments, the SSA uses the grid rules to decide some disability claims. The grid rules are one avenue for the approval of disability benefits through a medical-vocational allowance. The SSA typically uses the grid rules only after it has determined that a claimant is unable to perform the jobs done in the recent past. The grid rules assign a “Residual Functional Capacity” (RFC) level. Cross-referencing the RFC with age, education, and skill level (past work experience), ultimately determines if a claimant is disabled or not.