Thursday, May 05, 2011

Is Social security Disability and SSI easier to get if you are older?

I read a report this week that stated that more Americans are working later in life, as compared to previous years, and that injuries from work activity are on a steep rise as a result. Why should work injuries increase when more older workers are in the workforce? As the report stated, such workers are at greater risk for bone breaks, muscular injuries, and fractures. According to statistical information provided by the Bureau of Labor statistics, injuries among older workers tend to increase steadily with age and often involve back pain and problems with major joints.

None of this was surprising, of course. And the way the U.S. economy is changing, we can expect to hear more such reports as individuals who are in their fifties try to stay employed longer. However, susceptibility to illness and injury, in a sense, is factored into decisions on social security disability and SSI disability claims. This is because most decisions on claims are made through a grid of rules that take into consideration a person's age, their level of work skills, age, education, and their remaining functional capabilities. Where a person falls on the grid (more education or less, being a younger or older individual, having more skills or fewer skills, having more functional limitations or less) will determine whether or not they will be considered disabled by the social security administration. And, of course, one of the primary determinants of how a decision will go, is a person's age.

For Social Security Disability and SSI claims, the "magic age numbers" are 50 and 55. At age 50, it becomes a bit easier to be approved for disability benefits using the social security administration's system of sequential evaluation (*see description below) and at age 55 it come easier still.

Why is this the case? Part of the answer is that this is SSA's way of acknowledging that workers, as they age, are less able to transition to other forms of work because their own skills may become increasingly outdated and because it becomes more difficult to gain new skills or update an existing skill set. However, there is no denying the fact that individuals have more health problems as they age and that these problems are more likely to impair functional capacity than might be the case for younger workers. I hate to use the old car analogy, but just as an older car, even one meticulously maintained, will begin to have more problems as a function of age, so, too, will older people have more problems and become less resilient to "bouncing back" from injury and illness.

Of course, a disability benefit system that did not acknowledge these realities would be completely unsympathetic to the realities of life. Fortunately, the disability benefit system operated by the U.S. Social Security Administration does allow age to play a substantial role in determining medical vocational outcomes on SSDI and SSI disability claims.

Now, can you win disability benefits if you are a younger individual? Yes, and it happens all the time. The same rules apply. Either a person must satisfy the requirements of a listing, or their condition must be severe enough that it has lasted (or will last) for a year while preventing the person from working and earning a substantial and gainful income (SGA) at a former past job, or at some type of other work. Obviously, it will usually be more difficult for a younger individual to win benefits at the initial claim and reconsideration appeal levels. However, the odds will improve at a disability hearing if a claimant has able representation (on this, the statistics are fairly clear and representation can increase the likelihood of winning by as much as fifty percent).

*Sequential Evaluation:

1) Is the claimant working and earning a substantial and gainful income?,

2) Does the claimant have a severe impairment,

3) Does the claimant's medical records satisfy the criteria of a disability listing

And, if not,

4) Is the claimant unable to perform their relevant past work?


5) Is the claimant unable to perform any other work that their medical and vocational profile might suit them for?

Return to the Social Security Disability SSI Benefits Blog

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