If a person is 49 and close to 50 years old, is age a factor that affects a disability case?

Why does a person's age play a factor in determining whether or not they will get disability? If a person is 49 and a few months from being 50, what are their chances?

Age is a factor because disability approvals are made in two separate ways. In the first one, where individuals may be granted benefits on the basis of a listing, age is not a consideration except to distinguish whether the adult or childhood listings apply to the case. In the second manner of approval, a person may be awarded benefits through the medical vocational decision process.

In this process, a disability examiner or judge will look at the claimant's work history, the limitations the person has as a result of their condition, and then try to decide first of all if they can return to one of their past jobs. If they can return to a past job, the case is denied.

If the individual cannot return to a past job, which is step 4 of the SSA sequential evaluation process, the case moves on step 5 of the sequential evaluation process. This is where the decision is made as to whether the individual (who it has already been decided lacks the ability to go back to their past work), can do some type of other work.

Making the decision of whether a person can do other work involves what are known as medical vocational grid rules. The rules that apply to a decision of "disabled" or "not disabled" take into account a person's education, their current limitations, their work skill levels, the exertional requirements of their past work, and their age. So, age is absolutely a factor in disability decisions.

At age 50, the rules are more favorable than for a 49 year old. However, you mentioned what happens when a person is a few months aways from turning 50. According to section 404.1563 of the code of federal regulations (titled "Your age as a vocational factor"), "We will not apply the age categories mechanically in a borderline situation. If you are within a few days to a few months of reaching an older age category, and using the older age category would result in a determination or decision that you are disabled, we will consider whether to use the older age category after evaluating the overall impact of all the factors of your case."

So, in other words, you don't have to be actually be 50 to benefit from the age 50 rules. If you are close to age 50, the judge in a case may award a person benefits. For a decision made by a disability examiner, the age 50 rules will usually be made if a person is 49 years and 6 months of age. However, one should keep in mind that a judge or examiner may or not do this and, instead, may be very strict on the application of vocational rules.

Finally, it's worth mentioning that just as the vocational rules become more favorable at age 50, they get even more favorable at age 55.

I wish you the very best of luck on your case.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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