First, anyone 18 or older can in theory qualify for disability benefits.
In making a determination whether or not a younger individual (or any
other claimant for that matter) qualifies, the agency first looks at whether
this person meets the Listings of impairments. The issue of whether someone
meets the Listings is age neutral, as these rules are applied to younger
claimants and older claimants alike. Thus, a younger individual with a
major illness affecting his or her ability to work (e.g. blindness, cancer,
major reconstructive surgery, etc.) should not be discouraged from applying
for benefits because of his or her age. However, qualifying under the
Listings is extremely difficult, and most people who are ultimately found
to be disabled do not meet the high bar set by the Listings.
Assuming that you do not meet the Listings for a condition, you must then establish that you are unable to perform your past work and that there are not a significant number of other jobs to which you can adjust in the economy. In making this determination, age absolutely can play an important role in whether or not you qualify for disability benefits. In making the determination as to whether there are a significant number of jobs for you to perform, the Social Security Administration can either rely on the testimony of a vocational expert (a person with special expertise in the labor market) or it can rely on its rules governing disability. The most commonly invoked set of rules are the Medical-Vocational Guidelines (The Grid). (Visit http://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/cfr20/404/404-app-p02.htm for more information)
When people have been told that they were “too young” to qualify, they are really discussing the Grid. Put simply, the Grid presumes that the older the worker, the more difficulty he will have in adjusting to new jobs. To compensate for this, as claimants reach certain advanced ages, the standard they must meet for disability becomes easier. For most applicants the major ages are 50 and 55. At these points, the Grid is more favorable in helping them establish that there would not be other work to which they could adjust.
Example 1: Joe is 51 years old and has worked his whole adult life as a truck driver. He develops severe complications from diabetes mellitus and peripheral vascular disease and loses his job because of this. His past work as a truck driver required him to perform work at the medium level (requiring the ability to lift and carry 50 lbs). His doctor has told him that he is no longer cleared to do this work, and that he really needs to find a job that does not involve heavy lifting or prolonged standing. Under Social Security’s classifications, this means his doctor believes him to be restricted to sedentary work activity.
Under the above facts, Joe is likely eligible for disability under the Grid. Even though his doctor thinks that it is possible to physically perform a sedentary job, the SSA recognizes that it is extremely difficult for someone in his 50s to retrain for a completely new occupation in this manner. Taking this into consideration, Joe will likely be awarded benefits.
Example 2: Joe’s younger brother Dave is 41 years old. Dave had worked alongside his brother as a truck driver. He injures his back and knee at work and is now restricted to lifting 10 lbs and cannot tolerate prolonged standing. Like his brother, Dave has been told by his doctor that he needs to find a “desk job.” However, unlike his brother’s situation, Dave’s age is working against him. Under the Grid, the SSA assumes that Dave will be able to adjust and retrain to perform a desk job. Thus, Dave must have other restrictions if he is going to qualify for benefits.
The Donati Law Social Security lawyers are experienced in the area of Social Security Disability law. With over 100 years of legal experience in Social Security matters, the attorneys of Donati Law can help you achieve results. The administrative process is complex, and the majority of people who apply for Social Security disability benefits are initially denied. Without the benefit of legal representation, the process can be overwhelming.