Applying for Disability at Age 55-59: What Social Security's Medical-Vocational Grids Say

If you are between the ages of 55-59 and you have severe limitations, you could be approved for disability benefits.

Related Ads

Talk to a Disability Lawyer

Enter Your Zip Code to Connect with a Lawyer Serving Your Area

searchbox small

If, based on your application for disability, the Social Security Administration (SSA) decides your condition doesn't meet an impairment listing and you can't do your past job, the SSA will refer to the “grid rules” for applicants age 55-59 to decide if you're disabled. The grids are a series of tables that take into account several factors to come up with a finding of "disabled" or "not disabled."

However, using the grids is only one way to win, or lose, a claim; even if the age 55-59 grid directs a finding of "not disabled," you can still be approved for benefits (though you may have to file an appeal). We discuss some strategies below for how those in their late fifties can win their claim even if the grids say they aren't disabled.

Claimants Who Are Aged 55-59

When using the grid rules, the SSA categorizes claimants (applicants) who are aged 55-59 as “advanced age.” The SSA has specific rules for those who are in this age group. The grid is divided into tables based exertional levels; that is, what level of work an applicant's RFC states that the applicant can do. The different RFC levels are for work at the following levels:

  • sedentary
  • light
  • medium
  • heavy, and
  • very heavy.

Please read our overview article on using the grids to learn what, besides age and RFC level, the grids take into account (education, past relevant work, and transferable skill set) to make a determination in your case.

Using the Grids

Below are the grid rules for people between the age of 55 and 59. To see how the SSA would decide your case based on the grids, first find the table that discusses your RFC level. Next, find the row that describes your education level and previous work experience. The third column shows the decision the SSA will make based on those two factors.

RFC for SEDENTARY WORK

Education

Previous Work Experience

Decision

11th grade education or lower

Unskilled work or no past relevant work

Disabled

11th grade education or lower

Skilled or semiskilled work without transferable skills

Disabled

11th grade education or lower

Skilled or semiskilled work with transferable skills

Not disabled

High school graduate or higher

Unskilled work or no past relevant work

Disabled

High school graduate or higher

Skilled or semiskilled work without transferable skills

Disabled

High school graduate or higher

Skilled or semiskilled work with transferable skills

Not disabled

Recent education or training for skilled work

Unskilled work or no past relevant work

Not disabled

Recent education or training for skilled work

Skilled or semiskilled work with or without transferable skills

Not disabled

 

RFC for LIGHT WORK

Education

Previous Work Experience

Decision

11th grade education or lower

Unskilled work or no past relevant work

Disabled

11th grade education or lower

Skilled or semiskilled work without transferable skills

Disabled

11th grade education or lower

Skilled or semiskilled work with transferable skills

Not disabled

High school graduate or higher

Unskilled work or no past relevant work

Disabled

High school graduate or higher

Skilled or semiskilled work without transferable skills

Disabled

High school graduate or higher

Skilled or semiskilled work with transferable skills

Not disabled

Recent education or training for skilled work

Unskilled work or no past relevant work

Not disabled

Recent education or training for skilled work

Skilled or semiskilled work with or without transferable skills

Not disabled

 

RFC for MEDIUM WORK

Education

Previous Work Experience

Decision

11th grade education or lower

No past relevant work

Disabled

11th grade education or lower

Unskilled work

Not disabled

11th grade education or lower

Skilled or semiskilled work without transferable skills

Not disabled

11th grade education or lower

Skilled or semiskilled work with transferable skills

Not disabled

High school graduate or higher

Unskilled work or no past relevant work

Not disabled

High school graduate or higher

Skilled or semiskilled work without transferable skills

Not disabled

High school graduate or higher

Skilled or semiskilled work with transferable skills

Not disabled

Recent education or training for skilled work

Skilled or semiskilled work with or without transferable skills

Not disabled

Examples of Using the Grid

 Here are examples of when a person aged 55-59 (“advanced age”) can be approved based on the grids.

  • In one case, a 57-year-old woman applied for disability based her diabetes. She had a high school education but hadn't worked for 25 years. The SSA determined that the claimant had the RFC to perform sedentary work only. The grids directed a finding of disabled and the claimant was approved.

  • In another case, a 56-year-old man applied for disability because of mild emphysema. He had an 10th grade education and had worked his whole life as a waterman. The SSA found that despite his emphysema, he still had the RFC to do light work, but he had no transferable skills. The claimant was approved under the grids.

Here are some examples of when a person of “advanced age” would be found not disabled:

  • In one case, a 55-year-old man filed for disability based on arthritis in both knees. He had a college education, and his past work was as a hotel manager. The SSA determined he had the RFC to perform sedentary work. The SSA also determined that the claimant had transferable skills, including the ability to manage groups and interact with customers. Given these factors, the grids directed a finding of not disabled.
  • In another case, a 58-year-old man filed for disability based on hepatitis C. The claimant had a high school education and some college. The SSA determined that the claimant had the RFC to perform medium work. Because of his education level, the claimant was denied under the grids.

Options for Approval When the Grids Say "Not Disabled"

Even if the grids say you should be denied benefits, you can still win your claim by showing your limitations actually prevent you from doing the kind of work the SSA says you can do.

One way to win is to prove you cannot even do a sit-down job. For instance, if the SSA denied you benefits because you had a sedentary RFC, a college education, and transferable job skills, you could appeal and prove that your inability to use your hands and fingers don't allow you to do any sit-down jobs. For more information, see our article on not being able to do sedentary work.

If the grids say that you have transferable skills but your functional limitations prevent you from using them, you can "reverse" the grid's determination. For more information, see our article on proving you don't have transferable job skills.

You can also be approved if you can show that you have a combination of exertional (strength-related) and non-exertional limitations that prevent you from working. For instance, if you have an RFC for light work, but you can't stoop or reach overhead, you won't be able to do many light jobs. Non-exertional limitations also include mental limitations such as difficulty with memory or understanding directions. For more information on how to win a claim using this strategy, see our article on combining exertional and non-exertional limitations to show disability.

Also, if you worked for 35 years at heavy physical labor, you can no longer do that type of work, and you have a marginal education (6th grade or less), you could win your claim under the "worn-out worker" rule.  For more information, see our article on the "worn-out worker" rule.

Finally, if you are 59, check out the grid rules for those over 60. If you would qualify for disability under these rules and are severely disabled, the SSA might be persuaded to use the older age grid.

Contact an Attorney

Many claimants in the 55-59 age group can win disability approval using the grids. However, in some circumstances, particularly those with more education or higher RFCs, the grids still direct a finding of not disabled. If you fall into the "not disabled" area of the grids, or you think the grids deem you disabled but you were denied benefits, contact a disability attorney to discuss your case to see if you can be approved inside or outside the grid rules. To find a disability attorney in your area, visit our disability lawyer locator tool.

by: , Contributing Author

Get Your Case Reviewed

Find a lawyer for a free case review.
HOW IT WORKS
how it works 1
Tell us about your case
how it works 2
Provide your contact information
how it works 1
Choose attorneys to contact you
LA-NOLO5:DRU.1.6.2.20140813.27175