Will I Be Found ‘Disabled’ Based On My Age?
“Age”, in the world of Social Security Disability, is defined as one’s chronological age, but one attains a particular age the day before his or her birthday.
Age becomes a factor in the determination of disability at step 5 of the 5-step decision-making process. At step 5, a decisionmaker needs to determine whether or not someone is capable of transitioning to other work. Congress determined that as you get older you lose the ability to learn a new job.
Recognizing this, the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) created rules that make it easier for older folks to be found disabled if they are no longer able to perform the job(s) they use to do. The “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” rule. These rules are known as the grid rules.
What Are the Grid Rules Categories of Age?
There are 5 age categories.
|Rule||Age||Education||Previous Work Experience||Data|
|Younger Person - Under Age 50|
|Closely Approaching Advanced Age - Age 50-54|
|Advanced Age - Age 55-59|
|Closely Approaching Retirement Age - Age 60 - 65|
|Retirement Age - Age 65 or Older|
The rules reflect the fact that for those individuals in this category, age generally does not affect a person’s ability to adjust to other work.
There are; however, some limited circumstances when people age 45-49 are more limited in their ability to adjust to other work. This is only recognized for people who cannot speak English or are illiterate.
For everyone else under age 50, there are no special rules related to age.
The grid rules kick in at age 50, thus a decisionmaker is required to consider whether the claimant’s age may seriously affect his or her ability to adjust to other or new work.
These rules create circumstances where someone in this age category will be found disabled, while an identical person under age 50 would not.
Being of advanced age significantly affects a claimant’s ability to adjust to other or new work.
In addition to the grid rules, there are also special rules for transferability of skills for individuals in this age category who are limited to sedentary work due to their ailments.
Being closely approaching retirement age also significantly impacts a claimant’s ability to adjust to other work.
Not only are the grid rules more forgiving at this age, but special rules for transferability of skills are also more forgiving for those who are limited to both light and sedentary work due to their ailments in this category.
Retirement Age – Age 65 or Older
Generally, at this age category, one would be eligible for Social Security Retirement, as a result, they are not eligible for disability benefits.
You cannot get both retirement and disability at the same time.
What If I Am Borderline Between Two Ages?
If a claimant is within a few days or months of the next age category and being in the higher age category would result in a decision of ‘disabled’ instead of ‘not disabled’, then a decisionmaker is required to consider placing that claimant into the higher category.
SSA does not have a good definition of ‘a few days or months’. Usually, 2 months is close enough and more than 6 months is too many. In addition to being within few days or months of the higher age category, one must have additional vocational adversities that justify placing the claimant in the higher category.
When Does Age Matter?
There are many points in time where a decisionmaker should consider a claimant’s age.
These points in time are:
- date of the ALJ decision
- date a claimant is last insured
- end of disabled widow(er)’s benefit prescribed period
- end of child disability re-entitled period
- date of cessation of disability
If one attains a new age category after they became disabled and on or before (or ‘within a few days or months of’) one of these relevant times, there could be a situation where a claimant is disabled under the rules of SSA as of their date of birth as oppose to the date of their injury or ailment onset.
In these situations, a decisionmaker would need to consult two different grid rules for each period of time and essentially make what amounts to two decisions.
Age is the second column in the grid rules. Once a decisionmaker has determined a claimant’s RFC, they would next need to determine which age category applies.
The decisionmaker will then need to find the appropriate grid rule that mirrors that individual’s education and previous work experience. The decisionmaker would finally be directed to make a finding of disabled or not disabled based on the “Decision” column associated with the proper grid rule.
It is worth mentioning again that if the claimant changed age categories during the period of alleged disability, multiple grid rules should be considered. This could, and often does, create a circumstance where one is ‘not disabled’ while in the lower age category and ‘disabled’ when they obtain the older or higher age category.