Age 50 and Disability in California

man aged 50 in a wheelchair talking to nurse

Individuals aged 50 and older who are seeking benefits under the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program are subject to different rules than younger workers. Generally, the Social Security Administration (SSA) doesn’t expect older workers to be retrained for a new job after sustaining an illness or injury. While those over the age of 50 have a better chance of obtaining disability benefits than younger individuals, the majority of initial claims are denied due to factors other than age.

Disability Attorneys of California represents clients 50 and older in disability benefit claims. We have working knowledge of the eligibility requirements for obtaining SSDI, the list of qualifying medical conditions, the disability benefit age categories, and the SSA Medical-Vocational Guidelines (the Grid). When you consult us, we will handle all the details of your claim and help you obtain the benefits you deserve.

What is the SSA Blue Book?

The SSA maintains a list of medical conditions — the Blue Book — that automatically qualify for disability benefits. Qualifying conditions include:

  • Musculoskeletal problems
  • Vision and hearing loss
  • Respiratory illnesses
  • Cardiovascular conditions
  • Digestive tract problems
  • Blood disorders
  • Immune system disorders
  • Neurological disorders
  • Mental disorders

Additionally, specific impairments the SSA considers disabling include back and joint injuries, cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, HIV/AIDS, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and kidney disease. If your medical condition is listed in the Blue Book, you are eligible for SSDI. You may also qualify if your condition is not listed, provided that it is medically equivalent to a listed condition.

What are the SSD age categories?

Generally, to be eligible for disability benefits, you must have an illness or injury that prevents you from performing any substantial gainful activity (SGA). Age is among the factors involved in determining whether you can perform the same type of work or any other type of work.

Given that the SSA recognizes is is more difficult to retrain older, disabled workers to perform new jobs, applicants for disability benefits are divided into the following four age categories:

  • Approaching retirement age (60-65) — The SSA determines whether the applicant’s skills gained from past work are transferable
  • Advanced age (age 55 or older) — The claimant’s age may significantly affect his or her ability to adjust to other work
  • Approaching advanced age (age 50-54) — The claimant’s age, severe impairment and limited work experience have a combined impact on his or her ability to adjust to other work
  • Younger Person (under age 50) — The ability of persons under the age 50 to adjust to other work is not seriously affected, however, individuals between 45-49 may be treated differently than those who have yet to reach the age of 45.

What is the Medical-Vocational Grid?

The SSA has established Medical-Vocational Guidelines to assist in making disability determinations. The grid considers factors such as age, education, and work experience in relation to a specific SSA rule. An applicant 55 years of age, for example, who is limited to sedentary work as a result of a serious medical condition may qualify for benefits whereas a 35-year-old claimant with an identical condition and similar educational background may not be eligible.

In making these determinations, the SSA looks to your residual functional capacity (RFC), which refers to the amount of physical work you are able to undertake. There are four classifications of RFC:

  • Sedentary — Being able to lift no more than 10 pounds
  • Light — Being able to lift no more than 10 pounds frequently and no more than 20 pounds occasionally
  • Medium — Being able to lift no more than 25 pounds frequently and 50 pounds occasionally
  • Heavy — Being able to more than 50 pounds frequently

Residual functional capacity also involves an assessment of daily activities that you can perform. These include carrying, climbing, bending, using the hands, and coping with emotional distress and environmental limitations.

What factors other than age does the SSA consider?

The SSA considers factors other than age in making disability determinations, such as your medical information and educational level. To qualify for benefits, your condition must be “medically determinable,” one that has been subjected to clinical testing and is supported by medical evidence. It is also necessary to prove that your medical condition has lasted, or is expected to last 12 months or result in death.

In addition to limiting your ability to perform basic work activities, your medical condition must also make it unlikely that you can take on another job. The SSA will look to your education to determine if you have transferable skills. The SSA typically finds that those who are 50 or older cannot learn a new job.

Finally, the SSA also considers your ability to earn a living. Although you are permitted to work while applying for or receiving SSDI, monthly earnings are capped (the 2019 earnings limit is $1,220/month). Monthly earnings above this threshold are considered substantial gainful activity.

Contact Disability Attorneys of California

If you are seeking disability benefits and are 50 years of age or older, it is crucial to understand the special rules that apply. When you consult Roeschke Law, LLC, we will work with you through every level of the claims process and help you obtain the benefits you deserve. Please contact our office today to speak with our Social Security attorneys.