SSD Grid Rules

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SSD Grid Rules

You probably know that the Social Security Administration (SSA) uses a large listing of medical conditions and criteria to make most disability determinations. This listing is generally referred to as the Social Security Blue Book, though it’s officially the Listing of Impairments. But not every determination is based on meeting or equaling a listing. That’s because some people are disabled by a condition that isn’t listed in the Blue Book or are disabled by a combination of conditions. 

The SSA uses grid rules to consider a combination of factors that include your age, your educational level, your past work experience, and your residual functional capacity. You may have heard that grid rules only apply to workers aged 50 and older, but the grid actually accounts for younger workers, too. It’s just that with one exception, the grid system always determines that a younger worker isn’t disabled. 

SSD Grid Rule Factors

While the grid rules consider four different variables, they are structured around your age. Those aged 60 and older–” closely approaching retirement age”– and those aged 55-59–classified as “advanced age”–are treated differently. Those aged 50-54–described by the SSA as “closely approaching advanced age” are subject to another standard. Each of these groups, to differing degrees, is considered to be at a disadvantage when it comes to adapting to new types of work. So, they are more likely to be found to be disabled if continuing to work would require retraining or otherwise learning new skills. 

Finally, those aged 18-49–” younger workers”–generally aren’t considered to be disadvantaged by their age. There’s just one scenario in which those aged 45-49 get special consideration on the grid. 

Other Grid Factors

The other variables on the SSD grid are: 

  • Educational level: generally, the higher your level of education, the more likely it is that you will be found able to adapt to a new type of work despite your limitations. However, note that the SSA is only looking at basic levels of education. The three categories on the grid are “illiterate or unable to communicate in English,” “limited or less” (meaning some educational level less than high school graduate), and “high school graduate or more.” This last category takes in everything from a high school graduate to a college graduate or PhD holder. However, if your level of education is “high school graduate or more,” the SSA will look at whether that education provides for direct entry into skilled work. 
  • Past relevant work: Past relevant work doesn’t necessarily include all of the work you’ve done in the past. The SSA is only concerned with work that meets the substantial gainful activity (SGA) threshold. That’s because having done a certain type of work very briefly or on a very part-time basis doesn’t necessarily mean you can support yourself through that type of work. The SSA also only considers work performed within the past 15 years. In addition to considering the skill level of your past relevant work (unskilled, semi-skilled, or skilled), the grid rules take into account whether skills from your past work are transferable. 
  • Residual functional capacity: Residual functional capacity (RFC) is the capacity you still have to perform work with whatever medical condition or conditions you have established. RFC isn’t specific to the applicant but is broken out into categories. SSD applicants will be assigned an RFC level that corresponds to the maximum level of work they are medically able to perform: sedentary, light, medium, heavy, or very heavy. The heavier the level of work you are able to perform, the less likely you are to be found to be disabled. 

Winning an SSD Claim with Grid Rules

A worker aged 55 or older who is limited to sedentary or light work will typically be found to be disabled unless their education provides for direct entry into skilled work or they have skills from semi-skilled or skilled work that are transferable. However, when residual functional capacity allows for medium-level exertion, a worker of advanced age who has limited education and only an unskilled work history won’t be considered disabled based on grid rules. In other words, every variable counts. 

Some, such as your highest level of education, may be cut and dried. Others, such as the degree to which your past work has provided you with transferable skills, may be less clear-cut. And, if you’re close to crossing the line between age categories, the SSA is required to consider whether to use the older age classification in evaluating your claim. 

It’s also important to note that because the grids are built around tolerance levels for physical exertion, the grid may not tell the whole story. For example, an applicant who is classified as not disabled based on the grid analysis may still be deemed disabled if factoring in mental health limitations further limits or eliminates their options for earning a living.

Get Help with Your SSD Claim

An experienced SSD benefits advocate can help you understand how your education, past work experience and other factors will be considered in a grid rules case. Knowing what the SSA will consider gives you the best opportunity to put together a strong SSD application and provide the most effective medical documentation and other evidence. 

If your claim has been denied based on the SSD grid rules, a knowledgeable advocate can review your denial and help determine what additional information or documentation may be helpful in getting your claim approved on reconsideration or appeal. 

The Best Time to Get Help is Now

The earlier in the SSD application process, you get help, the better. Most initial SSD applications are denied, and an even higher percentage of claims are denied on reconsideration. It can take several months to two years or more to get to a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). So, it’s in your best interest to ensure that your application is as strong and well-constructed as possible from the beginning and that you make the most of your opportunity to submit new evidence at whichever stage is next. 

To learn more about how Disability Help Group can help, call 800-800-3332 right now, or fill out our contact form here.

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