grandson kissing his grannyDisabled workers can qualify for Social Security Disability benefits after they turn 18, if they meet other eligibility criteria. Many applicants in Chicago believe this is the only way age affects their claims. However, the Social Security Administration uses age categories and age-based assumptions to evaluate whether a person qualifies for a medical-vocational allowance. If a person does not qualify for disability benefits by meeting an impairment listing, the person’s age may be decisive.


Age as a limiting factor

Age can significantly impact a disabled worker’s ability to train for or adjust to a new type of work. The SSA presumes older age creates greater constraints. The SSA recognizes the following age categories and presumed limitations:

  • Younger person — People between ages 18 and 49 are typically considered capable of learning new types of work. However, the SSA recognizes that people between ages 45 and 49 may be more limited than other younger individuals.
  • Person closely approaching retirement age — People between ages 50 and 54 may be found incapable of pursuing new work, provided they have significant impairments or limited educations.
  • Person of advanced age — Age is considered a substantial limiting factor for people older than 55. The SSA also establishes special rules for people over age 60, or people closely approaching retirement age. These individuals are only considered capable of light work if their transferable skills are directly applicable to the work in question.
  • Approaching Retirement Age (Age 60-67)

Due to the use of these age categories, the timing of an individual’s SSD application and claim evaluation can significantly affect the final decision.

Borderline age situations

The SSA allows special consideration for borderline age situations. If an individual is within days or months of joining a different age category, the claims examiner may evaluate the claim under the older category. This is only permitted if evaluation under the older category would result in a different outcome.

The SSA does not specify how long before a birthday a claim can be evaluated under an older age category. However, the SSA notes that few situations justify the use of an older category for an individual who is a year from the relevant birthday. To support evaluation under an older age category, a claims examiner must always consider whether the applicant faces vocational adversities that the medical-vocational guidelines do not account for.

Minor vocational adversities may justify use of a higher age category if the individual’s age is close to the category. Significant adversities are necessary if the age difference is large. Providing detailed documentation of vocational adversities is essential for SSD applicants with ages at the upper ends of the SSA age categories.