Getting Social Security Disability Benefits After Age 60

If you're between 60 and 66, you may have an easy time getting disability benefits while saving your full retirement benefits.

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Winning a disability claim generally gets easier for people as they become older. This is particularly true for people over the age of 60. However, some older folks choose to apply for early retirement at age 62 or 63 rather than applying for disability. Even though this may seem an easier option, it can reduce the amount of benefits you are entitled to. You can get disability benefits up until full retirement age, which is 66 right now.

Early Retirement vs. Disability

Because the disability process can be long and complicated, and because for some, receiving disability benefits carries a stigma, some individuals choose to take early retirement. However, collecting Social Security retirement early rather than applying for disability has drawbacks that should be considered before making this decision.

If you take early retirement once you reach the age of 62, your retirement benefit amount will be permanently reduced. The amount your benefit is reduced depends on the number of months you have until full retirement age (66 in 2013). This is called the “reduction factor.”

On the other hand, if you are awarded Social Security disability benefits (SSDI), your benefit amount will be equal to what you were entitled to receive once you reached your full retirement age. This is because SSDI and retirement benefits are based on how much money (in taxes) you paid to the SSA. Once you reach full retirement age, your benefits simply convert to retirement benefits, but your payment amount will not change. Your future retirement benefits are not reduced even though you were able to collect Social Security early.

Also, you will get the benefit of a “disability freeze.” For the purpose of calculating your monthly Social Security benefit, the disability freeze disregards any low earning or zero earning years for the period that your disability prevented you from working.

You may want to an experienced disability attorney to discuss the pros and cons of taking early retirement versus applying for disability benefits.

Why It's Easier to Get Disability After Age 60

For older workers, in particular claimants 60 and older, Social Security must consult a series of tables called the “grids” to decide if a person is disabled. The grids are a set of rules that take into consideration a disability claimant’s age, residual functional capacity (referred to as RFC), education, and work history to determine whether the claimant should be approved or denied.

The reason claimants over the age of 60 are much more likely to be approved under the grids is because Social Security takes into consideration the fact that it may be harder for older workers to learn new skills and to transition into new workplaces. That said, if you worked at a skilled job before you became disabled and you could put your skills to use at a less demanding type of job, you won't be approved for disability just because you are older.

Here is what the grids take into account.

RFC

A claimant’s residual functional capacity (RFC) is the most physical work he or she can do on a regular and sustained basis. An RFC can be for “sedentary”, “light”, “medium”, or “heavy” work. If you can still do heavy work, you won’t get approved under the grids regardless of your age. On the other hand, if you're limited to sedentary or light work, you'll be found automatically disabled if you're over 60 and don't have a high school education (assuming you don't have job skills you could transfer to another job, as mentioned above). Let's look more at how education factors into the decision.

Education

For the purposes of the grids, Social Security divides education levels into having a 6th grade education or less, having reached between 7th and 11th grade, high school graduate, and high school graduate with recent training that could be used for skilled work.

If you are a high school graduate and you've had recent schooling or training that would allow you to move directly into skilled work (such as a desk job or management job), you won't be found disabled under the grids (though you could still be medically eligible for disability other ways).

But if you graduated high school, haven't had recent training, and you have a sedentary or light RFC, you'll automatically be considered disabled.

Previous Work Experience

If you have a medium RFC and aren't a high school graduate, whether the grids will consider you disabled depends on the type of work you've done in the past. Social Security will look at the past work you have done to determine whether you did unskilled work, semi-skilled work, or skilled work.

Social Security allocates skill levels depending on how long it took you to learn your job. The longer it took you to learn your job, or if you had to have specialized education to learn your job, the higher its skill level. It is usually much easier for people who did unskilled work to get approved under the grids.

Transferable Skills

As mentioned above, Social Security considers whether you have skills that you learned at your old job that you could use in another position. If you do, the SSA calls these skills “transferable” and you won't be found disabled under the grids.

Usually people who did semi-skilled or skilled jobs will have developed skills they could use elsewhere. This can make it harder to get approved under the grids. However, some skilled and semi-skilled work is so specialized that the SSA will conclude that the worker does not have transferable skills (such as a seamstress work).

How to Use the Grids

Here are the specific grid rules for people who are aged 60 and older. Find the grid that describes your RFC (sedentary, light, or medium). Next, find the row that describes your education level and your previous work experience. The final column will show the decision that Social Security will make based on the previous factors.

 

RFC for SEDENTARY WORK

Education

Previous Work Experience

Decision

11th grade or less

Unskilled work or no past relevant work

Disabled

11th grade or less

Skilled or semiskilled work without transferable skills

Disabled

11th grade or less

Skilled or semiskilled work with transferable skills

Not disabled

High school graduate/GED or more

Unskilled work or no past relevant work

Disabled

High school graduate/GED or more

Skilled or semiskilled work without transferable skills

Disabled

High school graduate/GED or more

Skilled or semiskilled work with transferable skills

Not disabled

Recent education that provides for direct entry into skilled work (at least high school graduate)

Unskilled work or no past relevant work

Not disabled

Recent education that provides for direct entry into skilled work (at least high school graduate)

Skilled or semiskilled work with or without transferable skills

Not disabled

 

RFC for LIGHT WORK

Education

Previous Work Experience

Decision

11th grade education or less

Unskilled work or no past relevant work

Disabled

11th grade education or less

Skilled or semiskilled work without transferable skills

Disabled

11th grade education or less

Skilled or semiskilled work with transferable skills

Not disabled

High school graduate/GED or more

Unskilled work or no past relevant work

Disabled

High school graduate/GED or more

Skilled or semiskilled work without transferable skills

Disabled

High school graduate/GED or more

Skilled or semiskilled work with transferable skills

Not disabled

Recent education or training for skilled work

Unskilled work or no past relevant work

Not disabled

Recent education or training for skilled work

Skilled or semiskilled work with or without transferable skills

Not disabled

 

RFC for MEDIUM WORK

Education

Previous Work Experience

Decision

6th grade education or less

Unskilled work or no past relevant work

Disabled

7th through 11th grade education

No past relevant work

Disabled

7th through 11th grade education

Unskilled work

Not disabled

7th through 11th grade education

Skilled or semiskilled work without transferable skills

Not disabled

7th through 11th grade education

Skilled or semiskilled work with transferable skills

Not disabled

High school graduate/GED or more

Unskilled work or no past relevant work

Not disabled

High school graduate/GED or more

Skilled or semiskilled work without transferable skills

Not disabled

High school graduate/GED or more

Skilled or semiskilled work with transferable skills

Not disabled

Recent education or training for skilled work

Skilled or semiskilled work with or without transferable skills

Not disabled

It can be difficult to determine the skill level of your old job and whether any of the skills you learned can transfer to another position. If you are unsure about this, you should speak to an experienced disability attorney.

The “Worn Out Worker” Rule

In addition to the above grid rules, the “work out worker” rule can be used to approve disability benefits for people whose primary work was physical labor and who have only a marginal education. This rule allows for a quick approval of benefits if the following criteria are met:

  • The claimant didn’t go past the 6th grade in school.
  • The claimant has worked at least 35 years doing only “arduous unskilled physical labor” (work that primarily involves strength and endurance and requires little or no training to learn).
  • The claimant can’t do his or her old job because of his or her impairments.

An Exception to the Grids

If Social Security decides that your condition doesn't prevent you from doing your previous work for at least a year, you will be denied. In this case Social Security doesn't have to abide by the grid rules, since they are used to determine whether you should be able to adjust to a new type of work. If Social Security denies you benefits for this reason, speak to an experienced disability lawyer.

by: , Contributing Author

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