Published on: December 13, 2022
Applying for Social Security Disability at any age can be a challenging undertaking. And learning that different qualifying rules are applied to people of different ages only makes the process more complicated.
That’s why we at the Disability Experts of Florida specialize in helping people with disabilities get the Social Security benefits they are entitled to. We understand all the unique rules and regulations, and our expertise can increase your chances of winning approval.
This blog post explains how Social Security Disability (SSD) rules apply to cases where an applicant is 60 years of age or older.
How Disability Is Defined by the Social Security Administration (SSA)
Social Security Disability Insurance benefits are reserved for workers and former workers with substantial employment histories who suffer from a long-term illness or injury that keeps them from working to support themselves and their families. But the criteria for qualifying for SSD benefits require that you fit the following definition:
- A disability is a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that lasts or is expected to last at least 12 months (or result in death) and prevents the person from performing substantial gainful activities (SGA).
This is the standard against which all SSD and SSI (Supplemental Security Income) claims are assessed. But the standard is applied differently for older claimants beginning at age 50 and over and then different again for those 60 and older.
Where Does Age Fit Into the SSD Approval Equation?
The definition of “disability” the SSA uses focuses on a two-part analysis:
- Is the medically determinable impairment long-term (12 months or longer)?
- Does the impairment prevent the person from performing substantial gainful activities (work)?
Age is not a factor in the first analysis. The medically determinable impairment(s) has or will last 12 months or more, regardless of the claimant’s age. But whether the impairment is severe enough to prevent the person from engaging in gainful employment is affected by the age of the applicant.
Younger workers are considered more able to adapt to new work patterns in different environments. Their younger age gives them more time in their working life to acquire new skills, participate in lengthier education, and hone those new skills.
On the other hand, impaired older workers approaching the end of their working years are often less adaptable to new work environments, have less time to undergo extensive training, and are thought to be less likely to acquire and master new skills of value to employers.
Residual Functional Capacity
The assessment of the claimant’s adaptability discussed in the previous section brings us to Residual Functional Capacity (RFC). This is the analysis of each claimant’s flexibility in the job market. The government analyzes whether the claimant can “transfer” their skills to another available job.
The SSA defines Residual Functional Capacity as “the maximum degree to which the individual retains the capacity for sustained performance of the physical-mental requirements of jobs.”
Keeping in mind the SSD applicant’s symptoms and physical or mental impairment(s), can the claimant perform work requiring less exertion? Can a person with an impairment affecting their mobility perform office work that permits them to remain still? Or does the claimant’s work experience, education level, and age make them a good candidate to acquire valuable new skills with training?
If training is needed to enable the claimant to adapt to a new occupation or to fit into a new industry, how long is the retraining program? Is the person’s age so advanced that starting extensive training makes too little sense since they are approaching their full retirement age anyway?
To assist the SSA claim reviewers in answering these questions, the government has created a series of grids the reviewers can refer to for guidance.
Each grid is designed to determine whether an SSD or SSI claimant is appropriate for sedentary, light, medium, heavy, or very heavy work.
The use of the RFC grids is most appropriate for workers of advanced age.
When the RFC grids are used with older workers, the SSA publishes a manual instructing them on how to apply the grid’s guidance. The written instructions emphasize that,
“In order to find transferability of skills to skilled sedentary work for individuals who are of advanced age (55 and over), there must be very little, if any, vocational adjustment required in terms of tools, work processes, work settings, or the industry.”
Social Security Disability Benefits Are Higher than Taking Early Retirement
Considering that an SSD benefits claim will usually take at least several months to be approved, some people may think that it’s easier to file for their Social Security Retirement benefits early, at age 62. However, people who claim Social Security Retirement benefits early permanently forfeit as much as 30% of the full benefit they would receive if they delayed filing until their full retirement age.
But if their SSD claim is approved before their full retirement age, they will receive the same, full benefit amount they would receive in retirement benefits upon reaching their full retirement age.
Let Disability Experts of Florida Guide You Through Your Social Security Disability Claim
Disability Experts of Florida has helped thousands of disabled Florida residents win approval of their disability claims. With our extensive experience and our singular focus on disability law, you will not find a better equipped, more informed, or understanding disability lawyer or advocate anywhere.