Your Age and How It Affects Disability

by Jennifer Scherf

There are a lot of factors considered by the Social Security Administration (SSA) and an administrative law judge when determining whether or not you are disabled as that term is defined by SSA. Your age is just one of these factors.

The rules as far as how limited you must be in order to receive disability benefits change at age 50, and again at age 55. The rationale behind this change is that it is much harder for a person over the age of 50 to learn and be hired into an entirely new field at an entry-level position.

Prior to age 50, you must prove that, due to your physical impairments, you are unable to engage in any type of job that exists in the national economy on a continuous and sustained basis. Many people are surprised to learn that this does not mean that you would have to earn the same or that a job has to be something you are interested in or even something that you have the skills to do.

Example:A 45-year-old surgeon with vision issues might be able to work as a telemarketer and therefore wouldn’t be found disabled. A 40-year-old laborer might be able to take tickets at a movie theater and therefore wouldn’t be found disabled.

Between 50 and 55, SSA recognizes it would be more difficult to be hired in an entry-level position in a new field. So after you are able to prove that you are unable to do your past work (work you’ve done long enough to learn it in the past 15 years), the burden then switches over to SSA to prove that any skills you’ve learned from these jobs will not transfer into a less physically demanding job.

Example: A 52-year-old truck driver with a commercial driver’s license may not be able to sit long enough to drive a truck, or might have heart problems that prevent him or her from being able to renew their CDL. But the skills they have might still allow them to park cars in a parking garage.

Between age 55 and full retirement age, if you can prove that you are unable to do your past relevant work, SSA then must prove that you can do a less physically demanding job that has very little, if any, vocational adjustment required in terms of tools, work processes, work settings or industry. This means it must be essentially the same job.

Example: Moving from sales of copiers to sales of office supplies might mean you are not disabled, or being a manager of a restaurant might mean you could be the manager of a hotel. However, a 59-year-old trial attorney who now has a condition that forces him to avoid high stress could not work as a legal document reviewer because that is not the same job. A 62-year-old doctor who is now allergic to latex cannot work as a medical transcriptionist because that is not the same job.

Additional information can be found online at www.socialsecurityjustice.com.

1 – While you can be found disabled due to mental impairments as well, these age classifications only apply to physical limitations.

2 – National economy means just that — not a job in your area. This is the standard to prevent people living in small towns or remote areas from having an advantage over those living in a larger area with the same impairments.

3 – This basically means full-time work. Many people have good periods or good days, but SSA is looking to see if you would be able to do the work eight hours per day, five days a week.

4 – Jobs are defined by the Dictionary of Occupational Titles and are given “skill levels” that are determined by how long it would take a person to master the job and how much reasoning/thinking/math skills are involved on the job.

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