In order to receive Social Security disability benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) must find that you are unable to do a full time job due to your medical conditions. The general rule is that they cannot consider whether someone will hire you, or whether you can find a job. However, because the SSA recognizes that older workers may have more trouble adapting to new types of employment, it will consider factors other than just your medical conditions when you reach a certain age.
The SSA groups disability claimants into 4 basic categories:
- Younger individuals (18 through 49)
- Closely approaching advanced age (50 to 54)
- Advanced age (55 and over), and
- Closely approaching retirement age (60 and over)
If you are in the first age group, the SSA will not consider you disabled if you are capable of ANY kind of work, including sedentary, unskilled work (i.e., simple jobs that do not require lifting over 10 pounds, or standing/walking for prolonged periods of time). However, if you are in the closely approaching advanced age, you could still be found disabled even if you are able to do sedentary work. At this age category, the SSA decision-maker will look, with the help of a vocational expert (i.e., an expert on jobs and employment related matters), to see whether you have skills that could be used in sedentary work. These skills could come from your education (i.e., a college degree or vocational training), or your past work (i.e., whether you had the power to hire and fire employees, set schedules, or do bookkeeping). If you do have skills, you would be found not disabled. If you do not have skills, you would be found disabled. When you are in the next age categories, you can still be found disabled if you do not have skills that would transfer to light work, even if you are capable of that type of work (i.e., jobs that involve lifting up to 20 pounds, and standing/walking about half the day, and sitting the other half).
There are also other ways to prove that skills are not transferable, even if you do have them. One way is if you have a severe psychological condition that would prevent you from doing skilled work. Due to the complicated nature of these rules, it is always a good idea to hire an experienced disability attorney to help you navigate this complex system.