One of the most common questions we get when explaining Social Security Disability to prospective clients is “why does it matter how old I am?” We come into contact with many younger individuals who are suffering from severe medical impairments that severely impact their ability to work and we have to explain to them that in spite of their severe medical impairments they are unlikely to qualify for disability.
The problem for these individuals is that rules for Social Security Disability do not favor those under the age of 50. When you reach the age of 50, you are considered to be “closely approaching advanced age” the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, also known as the Grid Rules, apply. The Grid Rules are fairly complicated and we will not go through them in this article but here is the link for a detailed review of the Gride Rules. But the essence of the Grid Rules is that starting at the age of 50, the type of work that you previously performed becomes highly relevant. For example, if you are 50 years old and you previously performed work that required you to stand for 6 hours out of an 8 hour work day and you are now limited to only doing work that would allow you to sit down and perform, you will be found to be disabled assuming your past work to not have skills that transferred directly into a sit down job. As another example, once you reach the age of 55 you are considered “advanced age” and, if your past work was at a medium exertional level and you are only able to do light work do the limiting effects of a severe medical impairment, you will be found to be disabled if you are only able to work at the light exertional level even if you have the ability to stand for 6 hours out of an 8 hour work day. Once you reach the age of 60 you are considered to be closely approaching retirement age you will likely be found to be disabled if you are unable to perform your past work. As stated previously, the Grid Rules are much more complicated than this explanation but it is a basic framework to think about your age in the context of an application for disability.
If you are under the age of 50, the disability determination is not made based on whether you have the physical ability to do the type of work that you used to do; the determination is based on whether you have the physical ability to do anything including work that allows you to sit down and do it. The rules do not care about your education level or prior work experience. If under the age of 50, the Social Security Administration expects an individual to be able to re-train to less physically demanding work.
These rules may not seem entirely fair but they are the rules we must work within. If you are suffering from a severe medical impairment that is preventing you from working and you are thinking about filing for Social Security Disability, understand that your age will play a significant role in the disability determination.