Social Security practices age discrimination. The older you are, the easier it is to prove that you cannot do other work. Essentially, SSA has codified the old cliché that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. There are different rules for different age groups. The age groups are under 50, 50-54, and 55 and over.
If you are under 50, you have to eliminate all jobs available in the US economy. This includes jobs you have never heard of like lens inserter, small items sorter, and addressor. It doesn’t matter if those jobs pay a tiny fraction of what you used to get paid. You still have to show you cannot do those jobs. Quite frankly, the job you’re used to doing doesn’t really matter in these cases. Even if you’re limited to lifting no more than 10 pounds and have to alternate between sitting and standing, Social Security’s vocational expert will say there are jobs available.
If you’re under 50, do not focus on how much you can lift or how long you can walk. Instead, consider the minimum standards that all jobs require. Focus on things like attendance issues during flare-ups of symptoms, the need for extra breaks, or the need to lie down or elevate your legs above your heart. Even the easiest jobs require you to routinely show up and I’ve yet to find a job that will let you lie down at work.
Because you essentially have to prove that you are bed-bound to win before turning 50, you need a doctor who is willing to advocate for you. Preferably, your doctor will put your limitations in his treatment notes, but in most cases it’s helpful to ask the doctor to fill out a form. A simple statement that “you’re disabled” isn’t helpful because it doesn’t say why. I like to send questionnaires to doctors asking if you need extra breaks, need to lie down during the day, or would miss work due to flare-ups.
If you are between 50 and 54, you no longer have to eliminate all jobs in the US economy. Now, if you cannot do your past work, are reduced to sedentary work, and have no transferrable skills to other sedentary work, social security will find you disabled.
Sedentary work is defined as lifting no more than 10 pounds and standing and walking occasionally. Transferrable skills are the kind of things you learn in a job that will make it easier for you to do another job. Obviously, skilled jobs have more transferrable skills than unskilled jobs. A vocational expert will determine what kind of transferrable skills you might have.
You do not want the vocational expert to think you have skills you do not actually have. If your employer gave you an exaggerated title to make your job seem more skilled than it was, then describe the job you did and do not overstate the skill level needed to do the job. You want to emphasize that the majority of your job was physical and minimize how much of it was mental. Pride is the enemy here.
If you do have transferrable skills, you’ll want to focus on why you cannot perform those transferable skills. For example, if in addition to your physical limitations, you now have difficulty with the concentration you would need to do more complex work, you’ll want to include that. If you have carpal tunnel that would further reduce your ability to use your hands to do clerical work, you’ll want to document that. Of course, if you can prove you are bedbound, go ahead and provide that evidence, but you can still win even if you do not have to lie down.
Aged: 55 & Above
If you are over 55, it gets even easier to prove you are disabled because now you only have to show you are limited to light work, cannot do your past work, and have no transferrable skills to light work.
Light work includes lifting 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently with the ability to stand and walk frequently. At 55, your chances of winning your case go up dramatically. In these cases, the focus is more on the past work and proving why you cannot do that work. If you’ve done construction work your entire life, you probably won’t have much difficulty winning if you have documentation of any significant physical restrictions. If you were instead a computer programmer or did some other highly skilled workers, you need to focus more on why you cannot do that job.