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Does my AGE affect my eligibility for Social Security Disability benefits?Does My Age Affect My Social Security Disability Benefits Eligibility

If you are 50 years or older, your age certainly can affect whether or not you qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. This is because there is a special regulation embedded in the Code of Federal Regulations that we call the “GRID.” Its official title is the “Medical Vocational Guidelines,” but even some of the Administrative Law Judges call it the GRID. It is laid out in the form of 3 charts, and looks like, well, a grid.

For the GRID to apply, you must have an impairment that prevents you from doing your past relevant work (PRW). PRW is a term of art that means jobs that you have performed sometime in the past 15 years, for pay or profit, long enough to have learned how to do them.

You can be awarded disability benefits under the GRID if you are 50 or older, are limited to Sedentary level work by your impairment, and have no:

  • Sedentary PRW;
  • Acquired skills transferable to Sedentary level work; or
  • Special training that would provide for direct entry into skilled work

“Sedentary” is another term of art, and means work that does not require you to be on your feet for more than 2 hours out of an 8-hour day or lift and carry more than 10 pounds.  If your impairment limits you, but you can do more than Sedentary work activity, you may still be found disabled under the GRID if you have attained the age of 55, and are limited to “Light” level work. Light level work is usually done on your feet, but requires lifting and carrying no more than 20 pounds occasionally (up to 1/3 of the workday) or 10 pounds frequently (1/3-2/3 of the workday).

Here is an example:

Mary worked as a Back-Hoe Operator for 15 years, until she injured her back and knees and could no longer handle the vibration or jumping on and off the equipment. Her employer put her in the back office to work as a bookkeeper, but within a couple of months checks were bouncing and it became clear that she would need some special training that the employer did not want to pay for. Instead, Mary was laid off two months before her 50th birthday. She had back and knee surgery, but it did not eliminate her pain, and her doctor told her there was nothing more he could do. He released her to work, but told her to stay off her feet and not lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk. He suggested she find a job as a receptionist or something along those lines.

Even though her doctor released Mary to work, she is disabled upon application of the Sedentary GRID. Her PRW as a Back-Hoe Operator was Medium level work. The Sedentary bookkeeper job, with an SVP 6, was not done long enough to learn how to do it, and thus is not PRW. Mary was refused the special training that would provide for direct entry into skilled work.

Mary’s doctor limited her lifting to a gallon of milk (which weighs 8 pounds) and advised her to stay off her feet. Thus, Mary can perform Sedentary work at most.

The Social Security Administration does not apply the GRID age categories “mechanically,” so the fact that Mary was only 49 years and 10 months old, will not prohibit application of the Sedentary GRID.

So, even though there is no dispute that Mary could perform Sedentary work, her age significantly affects her eligibility for benefits. If Mary was 40 years old, and everything else was the same, she would NOT be eligible for disability benefits.

This is a somewhat simplistic explanation of the GRID. There are other aspects to it, including how far you went in school, literacy and whether you can communicate in English. If your impairments limit you to unskilled work, transferability of skills may not be an issue. If you are over 60 years old, a different set of rules is applied to the transferability of skills issue.

If you believe you are disabled under the GRID, and have questions about it, please call Maddox & Laffoon for a free consultation.