Getting Social Security Disability After Age 65 (Before Full Retirement Age)

Disabled folks over 65 can collect Social Security disability benefits rather than retirement.

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Some individuals who are over the age of 65 may not have the desire or financial ability to retire, but become disabled and are unable to continue working. Individuals who don't wish to start collecting Social Security retirement benefits may be eligible to receive Social Security Disability benefits if they can prove a disability keeps them from working. See our article on collecting disability and retirement for why collecting disability can be better than starting to collect retirement. (Note you can't collect Social Security retirement and disability at the same time.)

Social Security adds a few distinctions to the rules for those who are over 65 when applying for benefits. In general, these rules help those over 65 in the evaluation process.

The rules that apply to those over 65 can be divided by the method of qualifying for disability benefits. Individuals over 65 can qualify for benefits in two ways.

  • Meeting or equaling a listing. Social Security's "Blue Book" lists impairments that will automatically be considered disabling for those who meet all of the requirements in the listing. Listings can be "equaled" if you have an impairment that is very similar to, but not exactly the same as, a listing in the Blue Book. (See our section on meeting or equaling a listing.)
  • Medical-vocational allowances. Social Security will look at your limitations, age, education level and work history in deciding whether you can do other work. If not, you can be approved through a "medical-vocational allowance."

Special Over-65 Rules for Meeting or Equaling a Listing

For those who are over 65, the same rules apply for meeting or equaling a listing, but Social Security requires some extra consideration for those over the age of 65, as follows.

Thorough review. When an applicant is over 65, Social Security rules require the claims examiner or administrative law judge (ALJ) to carefully review the applicant's medical record to identify any possible age-related impairments, such as decreased hearing ability or eyesight, decreased physical strength, or memory loss due to the aging process. The applicant must be asked to fill out a questionnaire to show what limitations the individual is having in their daily life. In addition, when speaking to the applicant, the examiner or ALJ should be on the lookout for statements that may raise concerns about age-related impairments (for example, "I don't read much anymore because I can't see too well" or "My son said he visited me the other day, but I don't remember seeing him"). The examiner or ALJ should also be aware that statements from people who know the applicant may raise more considerations about possible impairments.

Impairments can't be dismissed. Social Security rules also note that the examiner or judge cannot dismiss age-related impairments such as arthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, poor vision or hearing, certain cancers, or memory impairments as being normal for the person's age.

Length of age-related impairments. Social Security rules direct examiners and judges to carefully consider the facts before determining that an individual over the age of 65 will not be disabled for at least 12 months (and so is not eligible for disability benefits because of the durational rule). The reasoning is that age-related impairments are more likely to be long-term ailments instead of ailments that can be cured or controlled within a short time span.

Special Age-Related Rules for Medical-Vocational Allowances

For those over 65 who don't meet or equal a listing but are unable to work, Social Security looks at how the applicant's impairments could affect the workplace. There are two distinctions, however, for those over the age of 65. First, there are individuals who will automatically be deemed disabled if they fall into a special profile that has been established by Social Security. Second, there are the effects of age on the determination of your ability to work that is less demanding than your prior jobs.

Special profiles. There are two categories of workers who will automatically qualify for benefits that are age-related and can apply to those over 65. The two categories are for:

  • those who have no work experience. To qualify for this category you must be at least 55 years old, have an 11th grade education or less (with no other significant job training), and not have worked in the last 15 years.
  • those who performed strenuous unskilled physical labor for many years. To qualify for this category, you must have worked in unskilled physical labor for at least 35 years and have an education of sixth grade or less, with no other significant training. For more information, see our article on the "worn-out worker rule."

Grids. When determining if an individual is able to do any job, Social Security will consider an individual's age as a factor. Social Security places the ages into different categories, the highest category being ages 60 and up. This is the age bracket that will be used to assess people over the age of 65. Based on the rules for that age bracket, Social Security will find you disabled, and eligible for a medical-vocational allowance, in the following situations.

  • Sedentary or light work. If you have an RFC for sedentary or light work (work that requires only minimal lifting and consists mainly of sitting throughout the day), you will be found disabled if you:
    • haven't finished high school or you don't have recent education that allows you to enter directly into skilled work, and
    • don't have any skills that can be transferred easily and with very little change from your previous work to another job.
  • Medium work. If you have an RFC for medium work (work that requires a greater level of lifting than sedentary or light work and requires standing or walking for most of the day), you will be found disabled if you:
    • completed 11th grade or less and have no prior work experience OR
    • completed 6th grade or less and have no prior work experience, only unskilled work experience, or your prior semi-skilled or skilled work experience left you with no skills that you can transfer to another job.

If you aren't disabled according to the above scenarios, there are other ways to prove you deserve disability benefits. For more information, see our article on using the medical-vocational grids for those 60 and older.

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