How Social Security Evaluates Disability

Learn How the Social Security Administration Determines Your Disability Benefit

We Help You Understand How Social Security Determines Disability

The Social Security Administration (SSA) determines whether someone is disabled two different ways:

  1. By meeting one of their Listing of Impairments 
  2. Or by meeting a Grid Rule

Meeting a listing is the less common way to be found disabled. SSA had identified a number of medical diagnoses and corresponding symptoms that would presumably render someone disabled. However, due to the need for medical expertise to evaluate claims in this way, the second method, the Grid Rules, has recently been favored. 

Because of this, the most common way for someone to qualify for disability currently is under the Grid Rules.  The Grid Rules define the standard for disability based primarily on age, and the nature of past work. Here is how they work.

Evaluating Past Work

SSA must determine if you can perform any work you have done in the past 15 years. To do this, they determine the exertional demands of your past work, defining the work as sedentary, light, medium, heavy, or very heavy. They also determine how highly skilled the work was. Here is how they define each group:

Sedentary work. Sedentary work involves lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time and occasionally lifting or carrying articles like docket files, ledgers, and small tools. Although a sedentary job is defined as one which involves sitting, a certain amount of walking and standing is often necessary in carrying out job duties. Jobs are sedentary if walking and standing are required occasionally and other sedentary criteria are met

Light work. Light work involves lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10 pounds. Even though the weight lifted may be very little, a job is in this category when it requires a good deal of walking or standing, or when it involves sitting most of the time with some pushing and pulling of arm or leg controls. To be considered capable of performing a full or wide range of light work, you must have the ability to do substantially all of these activities. If someone can do light work, SSA will determine that he or she can also do sedentary work, unless there are additional limiting factors such as loss of fine dexterity or inability to sit for long periods of time.

Medium work. Medium work involves lifting no more than 50 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 25 pounds. If someone can do medium work, we determine that he or she can also do sedentary and light work.

Heavy work. Heavy work involves lifting no more than 100 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 50 pounds. If someone can do heavy work, we determine that he or she can also do medium, light, and sedentary work.

Very heavy work. Very heavy work involves lifting objects weighing more than 100 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing 50 pounds or more. If someone can do very heavy work, we determine that he or she can also do heavy, medium, light and sedentary work.

Age Matters

SSA groups people into three broad buckets when considering if they are disabled. Under 50, 50 to 55, and 55 and over. The way each group is evaluated is different, as is explained below.

Individuals Ages 50 to 55

Turning 50 or 55 is significant in Social Security Disability cases because it means an easier standard of disability will likely apply under the Grid Rules. Whether the easier standard applies depends primarily upon: (1) your age; and (2) how physically demanding your past work was.

Ages 50-54

If your past work was at the Light physical demand level (or more strenuous), at 50, you now need to show that you (1) cannot perform your past work and (2) are limited to sedentary work, lifting about 10 pound at the most. You no longer need to show you are incapable of performing sedentary work. 

Ages 55 or Older

The standard can get a bit easier again at age 55. At this age or older, if your past work was at the Medium physical demand level (or more strenuous), then you need to show that you are limited to Light work, lifting about 20 pounds at the most, as opposed to Sedentary work at Age 50.

Ages Under 50

With limited exceptions, to qualify for SSDI as someone under age 50, you will need to show you cannot do any full-time work, including sedentary work.

Transferable Skills

In addition to the above, SSA will consider whether you have any skills that transfer to other work. This analysis can be a bit complicated. However, the idea is that if you can’t perform your past work but have skills that could transfer to work that you can do, you are not disabled.

Evaluating cases under the Listings or the Grid Rules can be nuanced and sometime complicated. Having a skilled attorney by your side can help you navigate the system and frame your case correctly to SSA. 

Contact a Social Security Disability Attorney

To discuss your case free of charge, call or email us now. You will incur no attorney fees unless we take your case and you ultimately receive benefits. Please call a Madison social security disability attorney directly at (608) 257-0040 or a Milwaukee social security disability attorney at (414) 271-8650, or email us via our Contact Page.

We Help You Understand How Social Security Determines Disability

The Social Security Administration (SSA) determines whether someone is disabled two different ways:

  1. By meeting one of their Listing of Impairments 
  2. Or by meeting a Grid Rule

Meeting a listing is the less common way to be found disabled. SSA had identified a number of medical diagnoses and corresponding symptoms that would presumably render someone disabled. However, due to the need for medical expertise to evaluate claims in this way, the second method, the Grid Rules, has recently been favored. 

Because of this, the most common way for someone to qualify for disability currently is under the Grid Rules.  The Grid Rules define the standard for disability based primarily on age, and the nature of past work. Here is how they work.

Evaluating Past Work

SSA must determine if you can perform any work you have done in the past 15 years. To do this, they determine the exertional demands of your past work, defining the work as sedentary, light, medium, heavy, or very heavy. They also determine how highly skilled the work was. Here is how they define each group:

Sedentary work. Sedentary work involves lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time and occasionally lifting or carrying articles like docket files, ledgers, and small tools. Although a sedentary job is defined as one which involves sitting, a certain amount of walking and standing is often necessary in carrying out job duties. Jobs are sedentary if walking and standing are required occasionally and other sedentary criteria are met

Light work. Light work involves lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10 pounds. Even though the weight lifted may be very little, a job is in this category when it requires a good deal of walking or standing, or when it involves sitting most of the time with some pushing and pulling of arm or leg controls. To be considered capable of performing a full or wide range of light work, you must have the ability to do substantially all of these activities. If someone can do light work, SSA will determine that he or she can also do sedentary work, unless there are additional limiting factors such as loss of fine dexterity or inability to sit for long periods of time.

Medium work. Medium work involves lifting no more than 50 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 25 pounds. If someone can do medium work, we determine that he or she can also do sedentary and light work.

Heavy work. Heavy work involves lifting no more than 100 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 50 pounds. If someone can do heavy work, we determine that he or she can also do medium, light, and sedentary work.

Very heavy work. Very heavy work involves lifting objects weighing more than 100 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing 50 pounds or more. If someone can do very heavy work, we determine that he or she can also do heavy, medium, light and sedentary work.

Age Matters

SSA groups people into three broad buckets when considering if they are disabled. Under 50, 50 to 55, and 55 and over. The way each group is evaluated is different, as is explained below.

Individuals Ages 50 to 55

Turning 50 or 55 is significant in Social Security Disability cases because it means an easier standard of disability will likely apply under the Grid Rules. Whether the easier standard applies depends primarily upon: (1) your age; and (2) how physically demanding your past work was.

Ages 50-54

If your past work was at the Light physical demand level (or more strenuous), at 50, you now need to show that you (1) cannot perform your past work and (2) are limited to sedentary work, lifting about 10 pound at the most. You no longer need to show you are incapable of performing sedentary work. 

Ages 55 or Older

The standard can get a bit easier again at age 55. At this age or older, if your past work was at the Medium physical demand level (or more strenuous), then you need to show that you are limited to Light work, lifting about 20 pounds at the most, as opposed to Sedentary work at Age 50.

Ages Under 50

With limited exceptions, to qualify for SSDI as someone under age 50, you will need to show you cannot do any full-time work, including sedentary work.

Transferable Skills

In addition to the above, SSA will consider whether you have any skills that transfer to other work. This analysis can be a bit complicated. However, the idea is that if you can’t perform your past work but have skills that could transfer to work that you can do, you are not disabled.

Evaluating cases under the Listings or the Grid Rules can be nuanced and sometime complicated. Having a skilled attorney by your side can help you navigate the system and frame your case correctly to SSA. 

Contact a Social Security Disability Attorney

To discuss your case free of charge, call or email us now. You will incur no attorney fees unless we take your case and you ultimately receive benefits. Please call a Madison social security disability attorney directly at (608) 257-0040 or a Milwaukee social security disability attorney at (414) 271-8650, or email us via our Contact Page.

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