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Age and the Social Security Administration disability process

One of our most common questions on our disability forum is, “How does the Social Security Administration factor age into their disability decision?” To understand the answer we first have to discuss the disability decision making process for both Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income.

The Social Security Administration uses what they term the sequential evaluation process to analyze a claimant’s application and determine if they disabled and eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income benefits. At its most basic the process asks these five questions:

  1. Are you engaged in “substantial gainful activity”?

  2. Is your condition severe?

  3. Is your condition on the Social Security Administration’s Listing of Impairments or “Blue Book”?

  4. Can you perform the work you performed in the past?

  5. Can you be retrained for new work?

In the first steps of the sequential evaluation process age is not a factor. The Social Security Administration is simply evaluating your work, the severity of your condition and whether or not your condition is found on the Social Security Administration’s Listing of Impairments (also known as the Blue Book and it contains a list of conditions the SSA considers automatically disabled).

It is not until the fifth step that the Social Security Administration really begins to factor your age into the Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income disability decision making process, evaluating your residual functional ability to work and determining your “maximum sustained work capability.”

The SSA will evaluate your capacity to work determining if you can do sedentary, light, medium, heavy or very heavy work and retrain for new employment. To make this decision the Social Security Administration considers your age, educational level and your previous work experience.

One interesting consideration, according to the Social Security Administration, if a claimant is under the age of 50 they generally do not consider age, education and work experience to significantly limit the abilities of most claimants to do other work.

The Social Security Administration's Age Classifications for Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income Claimants

The SSA categorizes claimants to assess their ability to retrain for new work. The following categories have been identified:

Younger Person

Younger person includes all claimants under the age of 50. The Social Security Administration’s regulations do not consider the age of a younger person to significantly affect their ability to adapt to new work unless the claimant is illiterate and ages 45-49.

Person Approaching Advanced Age

Claimants who are 50-54 are considered “approaching an advanced age” and the Social Security Administration will consider their age in conjunction with their mental or physical health conditions and will assume that their age could severely impact their ability to adapt to new employment.

Persons of Advanced Age

Persons of advanced age include those claimants who are 55-59. The SSA recognizes that their age cansignificantly impact the claimant’s ability to perform substantial gainful activity. According to the SSA, if the claimant in this category cannot perform medium work they may be considered disabled unless they have skills which can transfer to a less demanding job.

Persons Close to Retirement Age

Persons who are 60-64 are considered “close to retirement age” and if they have a severe health condition they are generally considered disabled and the Social Security Administration acknowledges they generally cannot adjust to even sedentary level work unless they have transferable and marketable skills.

So is age a factor in winning Social Security Disability Insurance of Supplemental Security Income benefits? Yes, and if you are less than 45 years of age and have a high school or college degree and are not approved prior to step five in the sequential evaluation process, it will be difficult to prove to the SSA that you cannot retrain for less strenuous work.
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