The Social Security Disability (SSD) claims process can be more complicated than it may seem, especially if you belong to a certain age group. While the SSD rules and regulations are applied uniformly across the board, the rules include special considerations for disabled claimants of advanced age.
If you are aged 50 or older, and you wonder if you qualify for Social Security Disability benefits, we at Liner Legal Disability Lawyers invite you to contact us to find out all you need to know about how your age affects your chances of being approved for full disability benefits every month. Call us today.
In the meantime, let us explain how the Social Security Rules apply to claimants who are at least 50 years old differently than they do to younger applicants for disability benefits.
The Social Security Disability Administration (SSA) defines a disability that qualifies for benefits in a two-part analysis:
- A disability is a medically determinable physical or mental impairment lasting or expected to last at least 12 months (or result in death)
- and prevents the person from performing Substantial Gainful Employment (SGA) [work].
The first part of the analysis applies equally to all applicants. To win the approval of an SSD benefits claim, an applicant must have an impairment determined to be genuine and persistent, regardless of the age of the claimant.
However, the second step in the analysis focuses on the relative severity of the impairment. Here, age can have a significant impact on whether the application for disability benefits is approved.
How Does Age Affect Chances for Approval of Social Security Disability Benefits?
When an SSD claim is based on an applicant’s severe impairment easily meeting the criteria of a “listed” disability, the age of the claimant has little impact on whether to approve the benefits claim. However, in cases where the impairment is clearly documented but the severity of the impairment on the person’s ability to work is in question, the Social Security Disability case reviewers move to a further analysis called Residual Functional Capacity or RFC.
What’s Residual Functional Capacity?
The concept of Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) involves an assessment of “the maximum degree to which the individual retains the capacity for sustained performance of the physical-mental requirements of jobs,” considering the claimant’s symptoms, pain, and limitations.
The factors that the SSA looks at in its assessment of each individual’s RFC include the following:
- education, and
- work experience
For example, if a 35-year-old SSD claimant whose physical impairment prevents them from resuming their traditional work as a construction laborer, the individual’s relative youth may be grounds to believe that they could be retrained to work in a marketable, non-exertional occupation within their ability through an extensive retraining program. After a retraining program, their younger age would enable them to rejoin the workforce and “perform substantial gainful activities” with a viable work-life ahead for another thirty years.
On the other hand, a 54-year-old SSD benefits claimant with the same education and work experience as the 35-year-old applicant would be a poor candidate for retraining in a new skill. In the view of the Social Security Administration, the advanced age of the older claimant makes them less likely to succeed in the job market even after retraining them in new skills. The SSA’s research suggests that older workers are less adaptable to new technologies and new patterns of behavior, and the real-world employers in the market are unlikely to hire a new worker who is approaching retirement and who is still a novice just out of a retraining program.
Under this RFC analysis, the older SSD applicant could be approved for benefits, and the younger claimant could be denied.
While this example is an oversimplified illustration only, it does shed light on the function of age in the application of the RFC analysis.
The Social Security Administration’s own instructions to SSD case reviewers regarding the application of the RFC Grids include this statement:
“Individuals approaching advanced age (age 50-54) may be significantly limited in vocational adaptability if they are restricted to sedentary work. When such individuals have no past work experience or can no longer perform vocationally relevant past work and have no transferable skills, a finding of disabled ordinarily obtains.”
The follow-up comment, however, notes that if an older SSD claimant has “recently completed education which provides for direct entry into sedentary work,” then the approval of disability benefits is not as probable.
Advanced Age (55 and over)
The Social Security Administration’s perception of age as a factor in deciding to approve or deny an SSD benefits application is stated in plain terms:
“The adversity of functional restrictions to sedentary work at an advanced age (55 and over) for individuals with no relevant past work or who can no longer perform vocationally relevant past work and have no transferable skills, warrants a finding of disabled.”
The SSA also instructs that when assessing the potency of the “transferrable skills” of disability claimants of advanced age (55 and over), even to sedentary work, there should be little, if any, expectation that they will be successful in adjusting to new tools, work processes, work settings, or industry.
Should Older Disability Applicants File for Social Security Retirement Benefits Early?
When a worker or former worker becomes disabled later in life, especially between the ages of 62 and their Full Retirement Age (FRA), they may mistakenly think that the best choice is to file a claim for Social Security Retirement benefits early. While the process to do so is not adversarial, as the SSD process may seem to be if an application is initially denied, filing for early SSR benefits will result in permanent forfeiture of up to 30% of the full retirement benefits they’ve worked their whole life to receive. Claiming early Social Security Retirement will mean that the reduced benefit you receive because you filed before reaching your full retirement age is your benefit amount for life, with annual COLA adjustments. But Social Security Disability benefits pay you a benefit amount equal to what your full retirement benefits would be. And even if there is some delay in your disability benefits being approved, you will receive back benefit payments once the claim is resolved.