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Winning Social Security Disability Benefits After Age 50

This guest post is by Colorado Social Security disability attorney Tomasz Stasiuk, who writes the wonderful Social Security Insider blog.

If you are applying for Social Security disability benefits and you are over 50 years old, isn’t it a relief to know that Social Security finally gives you a break and makes it easier for you to win your disability case?

If you are under 50, click here to read how Social Security evaluates those cases.

Okay. Now that the young whelps have left the room, we can talk about how Social Security makes it easier for you after age 50.

I am talking about the “Medical-Vocational Guidelines” also known as the “Grid Rules” because they are often listed in a table. Starting at age 50, and then again at ages 55 and 60, Social Security reduces the requirements for proving disability. Basically, Social Security lowers the test of disability and makes it easier for you to be approved.

Here are the changes in a nutshell:

  • After age 50, Social Security can approve you for disability benefits even though you are able to do some type of work.
  • The older you are, the more physically demanding the work can be and still allow you qualify.

However, this is not a free pass and do not leave this article before you read the “gotchas” at the bottom.

Let’s get legalistic for a moment, the Grid Rules are based on step five of the sequential evaluation process. Before you can get to step 5, you first have to get past step 4: past relevant work.

In other words, are you still physically / mentally able to perform the duties of any job which:

  1. You performed in the 15 years before your alleged onset date; and
  2. You performed long enough to learn how to do the job; and
  3. The job was performed at a substantial gainful activity level .

In short, if you can still perform the duties of a past job, you do not get to use the Grid Rules and you may be denied.

However, if you cannot do any past relevant work, here is how the Grid Rules may help you:

Age 50 to 54

This is the first age bracket. If you are between 50 years old and the end of 54, you can be approved for Social Security disability benefits even if you are still able to perform sedentary work so long as your past work was not skilled or semi-skilled, or if you do not have transferable skills to to other work.

If you are illiterate, or unable to communicate in English, and have no past relevant work or only unskilled work, you can be approved even if you are able to perform light work.

Age 55 to 59

If you are between 55 and 59 years old, you can be approved for Social Security disability benefits even if you are able to perform light work.

However, if you have a 11th grade or lower education and no past relevant work, you can be disabled even if you are able to perform medium work.

Age 60 to 64

If you are between 60 years old and 64 years old, you can be approved for Social Security disability benefits even though you can perform:

  • Light work,
    • If you have a high school degree or higher level of education.
    • Or, if you have an 11th grade education, your past work with skilled semiskilled but the skills are not transferable.
    • Or, you have a 7th to 11th grade education of her past work was unskilled.
  • Medium work,
    • If you have an 11th grade education or lower and no prior work experience.
    • Or, if you have a sixth-grade education and your past work was unskilled.

Yes, things get complicated in the 60 to 64 age bracket.

Here are the GOTCHAS!

Once again, you have to show that you are not able to perform your past work. If you are still capable of performing the duties of any of the past jobs you have done (at a SGA level) in the 15 years before your disability began, then the Grid Rules do not apply. These exceptions only apply if you can first prove that you cannot perform any prior relevant work.

The other gotcha is that you cannot actually be working at a SGA level. These rules deal with having a “residual functional capacity” (what you are still able to do) that still allows some kind of work. In other words, you can still have an “ability to work,” but you cannot actually be working at a substantial gainful activity level (unless one of these exceptions apply).

Let’s do an example:

Over the last 15 years, you performed construction or labor jobs (medium to heavy occupations). Due to a back injury, you can no longer lift over 10 pounds and you can not stand for more than 2 hours out of an 8 hour day. This puts you in the sedentary exertional category.

This means you can still work but only at a sit-down job. In reality, you would probably need a job that has a sit/stand option, but that is not relevant for this discussion.

  • If you are between 18 and 49 years old, there is a good chance you will be denied because you are still able to do sedentary work.
  • However, if you are 50 years old, you will probably be approved because of the Grid Rules.

Lets shake things up. If in the last 15 years you worked for 6 months as a telemarketer (a sedentary job), you will probably be denied even at age 50 because you can still do a past job. This would be a step 4 denial.

Finally, if you are working at a SGA level at any exertional level, you are not disabled because you are able to work. A step 1 denial.

The Grid Rules are technical, but they can really be a short cut in a Social Security disability case.

However, if you do not qualify under one of these rules, it is not the end of your case. The Grid Rules only consider a very small group of limitations (lifting/carrying, sitting, standing and walking). They do not consider bending, kneeling, using fingers and hands, working around others, or any other limitations.

If you do not meet a grid rule (and most of my clients do not), all of your other limitations still need to be considered and may let you win your case.

Bob Kraft

I am a Dallas, Texas lawyer who has had the privilege of helping thousands of clients since 1971 in the areas of Personal Injury law and Social Security Disability.

About This Blog

The title of this blog reflects my attitude toward those government agencies and insurance companies that routinely mistreat injured or disabled people. As a Dallas, Texas lawyer, I've spent more than 45 years trying to help those poor folk, and I have been frustrated daily by the actions of the people on the other side of their claims. (Sorry if I offended you...)

If you find this type of information interesting or helpful, please visit my law firm's main website at You will find many more articles and links. Thank you for your time.

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