Social Security Disability Over Age 50

Close up of Social Security Disability Claim Form

Workers of any age may apply for Social Security Disability Insurance, which provides benefits to people under age 65 who cannot work because of certain qualifying disabilities.  Many workers are not aware that SSDI regulations include special rules that may make it easier for a worker to obtain Social Security Disability over age 50.

SSDI Special Treatment For Workers Over 50

Generally, eligibility for SSDI depends on a worker’s inability to do the same work performed previously and the inability to adjust to a different type of work. For workers over age 50, special regulations take into account your age, education, work experience, transferable skills, and other factors in determining whether you qualify for benefits. The regulations mean you may receive benefits for Social Security Disability over age 50 even though you still can perform some type of work.

The rules for workers over 50 often are referred to as the “grid rules,” because they are set out in tables that resemble a grid. These medical-vocational rules are divided by specific age groups: 45-49, 50-54, 55-59, and over 60. The grid rules recognize that it can be more difficult for older workers to adjust to performing a new kind of work. Under the rules, it becomes easier to qualify for disability benefits as you get older.

The rules take into account a range of factors, including the worker’s residual functional capacity (RFC), which is the maximum level work the worker can perform in light of his or her physical or psychological limitations. RFC is determined on a case-by-case basis following examination of the worker’s medical records. RPC work levels are characterized as follows:

  • Sedentary
  • Light
  • Medium
  • Heavy
  • Very heavy

Application of the grid rules involves a complicated process. When they apply, the rule may enable an older worker to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits over age 50 even if the worker may be physically capable of working at a functional capacity. For example, in some instances, application of the grid rules may mean that:

  • A worker between ages 50 and 54 may qualify even if the worker could perform sedentary labor;
  • A worker between ages 55 and 59 may be eligible even if the worker could perform light work; and
  • A worker aged 60 to 64 may receive benefits even if the worker could perform medium work.

The result in any specific case depends entirely on the facts in the worker’s individual situation, including the worker’s age, work experience, education, transferable skills, and RFC.

In general, the grid rules apply only if you are not able to perform your previous work. If you can still engage in any of your past jobs that were at a substantial gainful activity (SGA) level within 15 years before your disability began, the grid rules may not apply. However, if you do not meet the criteria for application of the grid rules, other strategies for receiving SSDI benefits may be available.

Application of the SSDI Grid Rules

If a worker is within a few weeks or months of the next higher age category, a disability judge may bump the worker into the next category and consider additional vocational adversities if certain criteria are met.  To qualify, a worker in a borderline age situation must show that:

  1. The worker is within at least a few months of the next age bracket, and
  2. Changing the age bracket would result in the applicant qualifying for benefits, while using the current real age will not result in a finding of disability.

In other words, if bumping up the worker changes the result of the determination, the judge may apply the criteria in the higher age bracket. The judge then will consider whether there are additional vocational adversities, including considerations relating to the worker’s education, residual functional capacity (RFC), or work experience.

Application of the higher age bracket in borderline situations is entirely within the judge’s discretion. In making the determination, the regulations instruct disability judges to balance the factors. The judge makes specific findings regarding additional vocational adversities in deciding whether to bump the worker into the next age category.

The rules that apply in these situations are extremely complex. If you are in a borderline situation, your chances of succeeding with a claim improve significantly if an experienced SSD attorney represents you. 

Talk With an Experienced North Carolina Social Security Disability Attorney

The regulations and procedures for receiving Social Security Disability are complicated. Anyone who applies for SSDI will benefit from representation by knowledgeable legal counsel. Especially for older workers who may qualify under the SSDI grid rules, assistance from an experienced SSD attorney can make a difference in the outcome of your case.

Our respected Social Security Disability attorneys at The Twiford Law Firm help clients at all levels of the complex SSDI application and appeal processes.  With offices in Elizabeth City and Moyock, we serve clients throughout northeastern North Carolina. Call us at 252-338-4151 (Elizabeth City) or 252-435-2811 (Moyock) or complete our online form to schedule a consultation.

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