Winning Social Security Disability Benefits After Age 50

This guest post is by Colorado Social Security disability attorney Tomasz Stasiuk, who writes the wonderful Social Security Insider blog.

Happy business man with team in a line behind

If you are applying for Social Security disability benefits and you
are over 50 years old, isn’t it a relief to know that Social Security
finally gives you a break and makes it easier for you to win your
disability case?

If you are under 50, click here to read how Social Security evaluates those cases.

Okay. Now that the young whelps have left the room, we can talk about
how Social Security makes it easier for you after age 50.

I am talking about the “Medical-Vocational Guidelines” also known as
the “Grid Rules” because they are often listed in a table.
Starting at age 50, and then again at ages 55 and 60,
Social Security reduces the requirements for proving disability.
Basically, Social Security lowers the test of disability and makes it
easier for you to be approved.

Here are the changes in a nutshell:

  • After age 50, Social Security can approve you for disability
    benefits even though you are able to do some type of work.
  • The older you are, the more physically demanding the work can be
    and still allow you qualify.

However, this is not a free pass and do not leave this article
before you read the “gotchas” at the bottom.

Let’s get legalistic for a moment, the Grid Rules are based on step
five of the sequential evaluation process. Before you can get to step 5, you first have
to get past step 4: past relevant work.

In other words, are you still physically / mentally able to perform
the duties of any job which:

  1. You performed in the 15 years before your alleged
    onset date
    ; and
  2. You performed long enough to learn how to do the job; and
  3. The job was performed at a substantial
    gainful activity level

In short, if you can still perform the duties of a past job, you do
not get to use the Grid Rules and you may be denied.

However, if you cannot do any past relevant work, here is how the Grid
Rules may help you:

Age 50 to 54

This is the first age bracket. If you are between 50 years old and the
end of 54, you can be approved for Social Security disability
benefits even if you are still able to perform sedentary
work so long as your past work was not skilled or semi-skilled, or if
you do not have transferable skills to to other work.

If you are illiterate, or unable to communicate in English, and have
no past relevant work or only unskilled work, you can be approved even
if you are able to perform light work.

Age 55 to 59

If you are between 55 and 59 years old, you can be approved for
Social Security disability benefits even if you are able to perform light

However, if you have a 11th grade or lower education and no
past relevant work, you can be disabled even if you are able to
perform medium work.

Age 60 to 64

If you are between 60 years old and 64 years old, you can be approved
for Social Security disability benefits even though you can perform:

  • Light work,
    • If you have a high school degree or higher level of education.
    • Or, if you have an 11th grade education, your past work with
      skilled semiskilled but the skills are not transferable.
    • Or, you have a 7th to 11th grade education of her past work was
  • Medium work,
    • If you have an 11th grade education or lower and no prior work
    • Or, if you have a sixth-grade education and your past work was

Yes, things get complicated in the 60 to 64 age bracket.

Here are the GOTCHAS!

Once again, you have to show that you are not able to perform your
past work. If you are still capable of performing the duties of any of

the past jobs you have done (at a SGA
level) in the 15 years before your disability began, then the Grid
Rules do not apply. These exceptions only apply if you can first prove
that you cannot perform any prior relevant work.

The other gotcha is that you cannot actually be working at a SGA
level. These rules deal with having a “residual functional capacity”
(what you are still able to do) that still allows some kind of work.
In other words, you can still have an “ability to work,” but you
cannot actually be working at a substantial
gainful activity
level (unless one of these exceptions

Let’s do an example:

Over the last 15 years, you performed
construction or labor jobs (medium
to heavy
occupations). Due to a back injury, you can no longer
lift over 10 pounds and you can not stand for more than 2 hours out of
an 8 hour day. This puts you in the sedentary
exertional category.

This means you can still work but only
at a sit-down job. In reality, you would probably need a job that has
a sit/stand option, but that is not relevant for this discussion.

  • If you are between 18 and 49 years old, there is a good chance
    you will be denied because you are still able to do sedentary
  • However, if you are 50 years old, you will probably be approved
    because of the Grid Rules.

Lets shake things up. If in the last 15
years you worked for 6 months as a telemarketer (a sedentary job), you
will probably be denied even at age 50 because you
can still do a past job
. This would be a step 4 denial.

Finally, if you are working at a SGA
level at any exertional level, you are not disabled because you are
able to work. A step 1 denial.

The Grid Rules are technical, but they can really be a short cut in a
Social Security disability case.

However, if you do not qualify under one of these rules, it is not the
end of your case. The Grid Rules only consider a very small group of
limitations (lifting/carrying, sitting, standing and walking). They do
not consider bending, kneeling, using fingers and hands, working
around others, or any other limitations.

If you do not meet a grid rule (and most of my clients do not), all of
your other limitations still need to be considered and may let you win
your case.

9 Comments For This Post

  1. Deborah Slavens
    April 24th, 2011 | 11:04 am

    I am a 61 year old lady getting ready to file for disability and the information you gave was greatly appreciated.

  2. William Robinson
    October 18th, 2011 | 4:49 pm

    I have previously filed and been denied at age 46 with bleeding varicose veins in my throat requiring regular treatments/procedures. My gastro doc says “work as tolerated” after procedures. This condition is due to underlying liver disease with other complications like very low platelets (can never take NSAIDS – hope I never get arthritis) and worsening gastro conditions (gall bladder removal, pancreatitis, irritable bowel). I have to go to the bathroom at least 15 to 20 times daily but was still denied. Good to know the rules get easier for me in 3 years… Thanks for the info.

  3. Nan
    February 24th, 2012 | 9:31 am

    I have been diagnosed with PTSD, and another disorder. I have not worked except a few hours here and there for 5 years. I will turn 50 this year. What do I need to do to get the disability?
    Thank you,

  4. Bob Kraft
    March 4th, 2012 | 5:24 pm

    Just call us. We’ll be glad to discuss this with you.

  5. Joe Schmoe
    May 11th, 2013 | 11:06 am

    Really? “a 50-year-old may be approved even though he or she is able to do some kind of work whereas a 49-year-old with the same qualifications may be denied.” The fact that SS was not designed as a long term disability plan should first of all have you scratching your head. The math was not set up that way. Oh, and the math was never really fixed to pay for disabilities. SS was setup as a retirement help that kept you from living under a bridge beginning at age 65. Let’s not add the fact that the average person at the time did not make it to age 65… Now the SS Administration also plays games with human beings on a disability you may have at 49 (or younger) that gets you NO help but the same disability at age 50 gets you some money. Yes, those socialist games are so humane; aren’t they? The promise of some future benefit that gives the masses peace of mind now and then later plays games with the way that the “paid for” benefit is distributed.

  6. Bob Kraft
    May 11th, 2013 | 4:04 pm

    No one of any age can receive Social Security disability benefits if that person is able to perform any job and make at least $1000 per month. (The amount is approximate and changes year to year.) The difference that occurs at age 50 is that if you have never been trained or educated for a desk job, the Social Security Administration assumes you are “too old” to learn how to perform that job now. For example a life-long dock worker with a 9th grade education, now unable to perform physical work for whatever reason, is probably not going to learn how to become an accountant at the age of 50. Is this fair? Each person will have an opinion. It is what it is.

  7. becky
    June 1st, 2013 | 9:51 pm

    thanks for the info

  8. Thomas baker
    December 5th, 2014 | 6:11 pm

    I’m on disability right now my question is how many times will they give you a review on your case when your over fifty at present I’m 51 years old

  9. Bob Kraft
    December 6th, 2014 | 9:06 am

    Disability reviews are not normally done on a regular schedule. Your case may be chosen at random for a review, or some new medical information may cause a review. If you have more questions, please call us at 214-999-9999.

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