Applying for Disability at Age 60 or Older: Using Social Security's Medical-Vocational Grids

The grids make it easier for those between the ages of 60 and 65 to qualify for Social Security disability.

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When you apply for disability after age 60 but before full retirement age, if you don't meet the requirements of a medical listing, Social Security applies special age-specific rules when it evaluates your disability. (And remember, if you are older than 62, you have the option of collecting your Social Security retirement benefits early or applying for disability benefits, assuming you have an impairment that keeps you from working).

How the Grids Work

Here is when your age matters. If the Social Security Administration (SSA) decides your condition doesn't meet a disability listing and you can't do your past job, the SSA will refer to the “grid rules” to decide if you are disabled. The grids are a series of tables that take into account several factors before pointing to a finding of disabled or not disabled.

The grid is divided into tables based exertional levels; that is, what level of work an applicant's RFC (residual functional capacity) assessment states that an applicant can do. The different RFC levels are for work at the following levels:

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

(For more information on how the SSA determines your RFC, see our article on RFCs.)

Grids for Claimants Who Are 60-65

The grids are especially helpful for people aged 60-65 in winning their claim, because Social Security realizes that people over 60 may have difficulty in transferring to new types of workplaces and learning new skills. But if the grids direct a finding of "not disabled" in your case, you can still be approved. Below we'll discuss how you can win your claim even if the grids say you're not disabled.

The SSA categorizes people who are 60-65 as “closely approaching retirement age.” The SSA has specific rules grid rules for applicants in this age group. Before reading the next seciton on using the grids for age 60-65, please read our overview article on using the grids to learn what, besides age and RFC, the grids take into account (such as education and skill set) to make a determination in your case.

Using the Grids for Age 60-65

Below are the grid rules for people aged 60 and over. 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 or less

Unskilled work or no past relevant work

Disabled

11th grade or less

Skilled or semiskilled work without transferable skills

Disabled

11th grade or less

Skilled or semiskilled work with transferable skills

Not disabled

High school graduate (or GED) or higher

Unskilled work or no past relevant work

Disabled

High school graduate (or GED) or higher

Skilled or semiskilled work without transferable skills

Disabled

High school graduate (or GED) or higher

Skilled or semiskilled work with transferable skills

Not disabled

Recent education that provides for direct entry into skilled work (high school graduate or more)

Unskilled work or no past relevant work

Not disabled

Recent education that provides for direct entry into skilled work (high school graduate or more)

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

6th grade education or less

Unskilled work or no past relevant work

Disabled

7th through 11th grade education

No past relevant work

Disabled

7th through 11th grade education

Unskilled work

Not disabled

7th through 11th grade education

Skilled or semiskilled work without transferable skills

Not disabled

7th through 11th grade education

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 for Ages 60-65

Here are examples of where a person aged 60-65 will be approved based on the grids.

  • In one case, a 61-year-old man applied for disability based on arthritis in his knees and a hip replacement. He had a high school education but had worked only as an unskilled laborer. The SSA determined that the claimant had the RFC to perform sedentary work due to his physical limitations. Therefore, the grids directed a finding of disabled, and the claimant was approved.

  • In another case, a 62-year-old man applied for disability because of chronic asthmatic bronchitis and heart disease. He had a 6th grade education and hadn't worked in the last 15 years. The SSA found that, despite his bronchitis, he still had the RFC to do medium work. The grids directed a finding of disabled.

Here are some examples of where a person of aged 60-65 would be found not disabled by the grids.

  • A 63-year-old woman filed for disability due to diabetic neuropathy and obesity. She had a high school education. Her past work was as a head housekeeper in a hotel. The SSA determined she had the RFC to perform sedentary work. The SSA also determined that the claimant had transferable skills, including the ability to manage and schedule employees and interact with customers. Given these factors, the grids showed that the applicant was not disabled.
  • In another case, a 64-year-old woman filed for disability based on high blood pressure and COPD. The claimant had a high school education but she had no work history. However, the claimant had recently completed training to become a phlebotomist. The SSA determined that the claimant had the RFC to perform sedentary work and under the grid rules was determined to be not disabled.

Other Options for Getting Disability

Even if your claim is denied under the grids, you can still win your claim by showing the grid rule shouldn't apply in your case. For example, you can win your claim 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 were given a light RFC and the SSA denied you benefits because you have transferable skills, you could show that your non-exertional limitations prevent you from using those skills (in which case they can't be considered transferable). Examples of non-exertional limitations include tremors that prevent fine manipulations, postural problems like the inability to bend or reach overhead) or difficulty with memory and cognitive problems. For more information on how to win a claim using this strategy, see our articles on using non-exertional limitations and proving you don't have transferable skills.

Or, if you can prove that you are unable to do even a desk job because of your functional limitations, you will be approved for benefits. There are certain limitations that may make you eligible for a "less than sedentary RFC." For more information, see our article on how to win your claim based on a less than sedentary RFC.

Another way you may be able to win your claim is under the "worn-out worker" rule. To win your claim on the basis of this rule, you must have only a marginal education (6th grade or less) and have worked at least 35 years in arduous (extremely physical), unskilled labor, and your disability must prevent you from doing this kind of job anymore. For more information, see our article on Social Security's "worn-out worker" rule.

If you are older than 64 or about to turn 65, read our article on the special considerations Social Security gives to those 65 and older

When to Hire a Disability Attorney

If you are 60 years or older, you may be able to get disability benefits after your initial application. Reviewing the disability listings for your medical condition and the grid rules above may give you an idea of whether you'll be approved the first time around. If that's the case, there's no need to share a portion of your back payments the grids can be an extremely helpful way to win your claim.

However, if Social Security denies your benefits and you have to appeal, you should strongly consider hiring a lawyer. An experienced disability lawyer can help you be found disabled under the grids, depending on your education and skill set, or outside of the grids. 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, use our disability attorney locator tool.

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