If you are over 50 years old here in New Orleans or elsewhere in Louisiana and you are applying for Social Security disability (SSDI) benefits, qualifying is easier. That being said, obtaining SSDI benefits is a complex and confusing process and, even though it is easier for older Americans to qualify, you are still going to need the help of an experienced SSDI attorney like those at Ascend Disability Lawyers, LLC. In this article, we provide information on why it is easier for those over 50 to obtain benefits. The reason relates to the “grid rules.”
New Orleans SSDI Attorneys — Sequential Steps for Processing SSDI Applications
Applying for SSDI benefits requires a completed application and information such as medical records. When evaluating an application, the Social Security Administration (SSA) uses what is called the Sequential Evaluation Process which has five steps. If your medical condition is severe and you are clearly unable to work, then, in general, the process ends at step two with an award of benefits.
However, you do not necessarily have to have a severe medical condition to receive benefits. The SSA uses steps three through five to evaluate what your medical condition is. Also, it evaluates how that condition impacts your ability to be gainfully employed and what work you can do. Remember that SSDI is only available if you cannot work.
In evaluating whether you can work, the SSA considers many factors including:
- Your level of education
- Work history
- Skill level
- And more
The SSA determines what your medical condition is and also what limitations that condition has on your ability to do various jobs, including your most recent job and other jobs that you might have had earlier in your career/life. As an example, let’s suppose you have a degenerative muscle condition and, because of the condition, you cannot lift anything heavier than five pounds.
The SSA generates your residual functional capacity (“RFC”). Your RFC is what work you can do even though you have a condition that limits your ability to work. In our example above, let’s assume your past relevant work was as a bricklayer. Since you cannot lift anything heavier than five pounds, you cannot be a bricklayer anymore.
The SSA evaluates whether you can do other work besides being a bricklayer. As an example, office work normally does not require too much heavy lifting. Thus, maybe you can be a word-processor or a telephone operator instead of being a bricklayer. But, of course, you might respond by saying “I have never done those jobs”. And, in general, the SSA would agree with you. That is why the SSA looks at your age, your work history, your level of skill and your education because, when evaluating if you can do other work, the SSA considers whether you have the capacity to transition to a new career. This is “vocational adjustment“. The SSA understands that “vocational adjustments” are more difficult for those who are over the age of 50. In general, workers have limited ability to learn new vocations and have skill sets that are not easily transferable.
This is why it is easier for older workers to qualify for SSDI.
New Orleans SSDI Attorneys — Vocational Adjustments and the “Grid Rules”
In evaluating your RFC, the SSA uses a many-paged chart which is the “grid” or the “grid rules”. The grid rules set out different outcomes for different age brackets and different RFCs. To continue our example, the grid might have a column or row for lifting restrictions. In our example, we would locate the RFC restriction for “no more than five pounds”. There are grids of each age bracket and there are cross-references for skill levels and education levels. The grid is more forgiving as the age brackets increase.
A couple of notes: First, the grid rules only apply if you have reached step five. If you can still do the work, then there is no need to evaluate your ability for a new career. The grid rules are only for evaluating vocational adjustments. Second, the grid rules only apply to those over 50 years old. The grid progresses in five-year increments. Thus, age 50 to 54 is the first age bracket.
As noted, basically, the grid is cross-referencing four factors: work limitations, age, skill-level/ training and education. Let’s continue our bricklayer example. The skill-level is considered not-skilled or semi-skilled. Let’s assume that our bricklayer is 51 years old, limited to light lifting, and he has an 11th-grade education level. Under the SSA rules, our bricklayer will likely be deemed “disabled” and will likely qualify for benefits.
If we assume that our bricklayer has a master’s degree in teaching, the SSA will deny the application for benefits. With a masters in teaching, our bricklayer can be gainfully employed as a teacher and is, thus, not disabled.