The Odds of Winning Social Security Disability When You’re Over 55

Posted on April 18, 2022

The odds of winning Social Security disability when you’re over 55 is much higher than when you are under 55. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has strict requirements for Social Security disability benefits, but adults over 55 years of age can qualify much easier than younger adults. This is because SSA recognizes that it’s harder for older disabled workers to transition to a new career.

The Odds of Winning Social Security Disability When You're Over 55

Is it Easier to Get Disability After age 55?

Aging is an asset when applying for Social Security Disability benefits (SSD). The Social Security Administration (SSA) is the government entity that handles the SSD and the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits programs, so is it easier to get disability after age 55? The SSA makes it easier for people over the age of 55 to receive disability benefits. SSA views a long work history as a good thing and wants to reward that achievement for disabled workers over the age of 55 who need disability benefits.

The SSA recognizes that it is much more difficult for older disabled workers to transition to a new career. Making a vocational adjustment after age 55 is difficult for most workers, but even more difficult for disabled workers. For people over age 55, SSA sets the requirements for SSD at a lower level, making it easier to get needed benefits.

When determining eligibility for disability benefits, the SSA looks at age as well as other factors including education, previous work experience, physical and mental ability, and the current economy. The SSA considers a person’s ability to do any job, not just the job he or she did before becoming disabled. When awarding disability benefits, a proven track record is important to a successful outcome, especially with judges who often look for sound credibility when awarding benefits.

The SSA determines disability benefits based on Medical-Vocational Guidelines. These guidelines consider age first and give preference to older adults due to the difficulty of making a vocational transition.

SSDI Approval Rate by Age

So, can you get disability at age 55? Throughout the United States, millions of people receive SSDI benefits. After age 50, people are twice as likely to collect SSDI than at age 40. After age 60, people are almost three times as likely to collect SSDI than at age 50. In 2020, records show that around 5.5 million people between 55 and 65 years of age received SSDI benefits. However, no one under the age of 34 received SSDI benefits in 2020, even though almost 50 million people were paying for SSDI insurance.

Within the SSA Medical-Vocational Guidelines, there are five age categories considered for Social Security disability benefits:

  • Younger adults ages 18-44
  • Younger adults ages 45-49
  • Middle-age adults ages 50-54
  • Advanced-age adults ages 55+
  • Adults approaching retirement ages 60+

As a person approaches the SSA advanced-age group or retirement-age group, applying for and receiving disability benefits becomes much easier.

For people who are over age 55 and can no longer work due to a disability, the chances of getting SSDI benefits are considerably higher. If a person over 55 can no longer do sedentary work, he or she may be able to transition to “skilled” labor to be considered not disabled. Under SSA guidelines, younger applicants who can work sedentary jobs are typically denied disability benefits. However, the SSA may consider older applicants over the age of 55 disabled, even when the SSA determines they can conduct sedentary or light employment.

SSA Disability Status Depends on the Ability to Work

The SSA must determine a person’s ability to work based on their standards for disability. To make that determination, the SSA investigates a person’s impairment to see if it prevents that person from substantial gainful activity (SGA). SGA is the person’s ability to work and earn money even though he or she has a disability. If the SSA determines that you are capable of engaging in SGA, the SSA most likely will deny your benefits.  When determining disability statute, there are a host of factors that the SSA considers. 

Severity and Duration of Impairment

To determine the level of severity and duration of impairment, the SSA looks at two different factors: 

  1. How does the impairment affect the person’s daily life? 
  2. Is the impairment expected to last one year or longer? 

SSA then analyzes the impairment to see if the condition meets or equals one of the SSA Blue Book’s impairment listings. These are listings of all illnesses and medical conditions that qualify a person to be considered disabled and qualify for SSDI benefit payments.

Present Ability Compared to Past Performance

The SSA wants to know if a person’s impairment prevents him or her from presently doing the work that he/she was capable of doing within the last 15 years. The SSA also aims to figure out if the impairment prevents the person from doing any other kind of work. To determine this, SSA looks at “grid rules” in the Medical-Vocational Guidelines that consider age brackets and physical exertion levels. These grid levels favor people who are over 50 years old, are limited to sedentary work, and have limited transferable work skills.

Residual Functioning Capacity

Residual Functioning Capacity (RFC) refers to the level of physical exertion a person can handle despite the limited ability caused by impairment. The SSA calculates a person’s RFC by determining how much weight the person can lift and how frequently it can be lifted. Based on RFC findings, the SSA decides if someone is capable of a sedentary, light, medium, or heavy work levels. For each of these RFC work levels, there are different grid rules that apply. Jobs that require lifting or moving heavy objects, prolonged periods of kneeling or sitting, and operating vibrating machinery often result in musculoskeletal disorders with long-term or permanent disabilities.

Most people receiving SSDI benefits are subject to Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs) every 3 or 7 years, depending on the likelihood that the impairment or condition will improve. If a person receiving disability benefits has a medical condition that is likely to improve, he or she may undergo a CDR before the three-year period is up. If a person has a permanent disability caused by a motor vehicle accident, his or her disability claim will likely not be reviewed until 7 years are up. Generally, those under 50 years old undergo CDRs more frequently than those who are over 50.

Odds of Winning Social Security Disability when You’re Over 55

You may be wondering, “what are my chances of getting ssdi at 55 years old?” As a person’s age increases, the odds of winning Social Security Disability benefits also increase. The SSA classifies any person who is 55-59 years of age in the advanced age group. Applicants in the advanced age group have a much better chance of receiving SSD and SSDI benefits, because they may be considered disabled under SSA guidelines, even when it’s determined that they can perform light or sedentary job tasks.

The SSA’s Blue Book contains information about the illnesses and medical conditions that the SSA determines to constitute a disability. If the Blue Book does not list an applicant’s condition, the SSA uses grid tables to determine if a claimant is disabled. It’s common for the SSA to use grid tables for adult applicants over the age of 55. The SSA rarely uses grids for adults under the age of 50 because this age group frequently doesn’t meet the qualifications for disability. Grid tables favor older adults. If they are 55 years old and older and can’t participate in light or sedentary job tasks, the SSA does not expect them to participate in any vocational adjustment training.

When Older Applicants Are Denied Disability

The first step in applying for SSD or SSDI disability benefits is filing an application. In Illinois, this can be done directly with the Social Security Administration or with the help of a Chicago Social Security disability lawyer. The lawyer can review the application, gather the necessary information to support the claim, and oversee the claim process.

Although applicants over 55 years old have approval advantages, federal disability guidelines are strict. It’s essential to submit a disability application supported by credible, accurate facts that the SSA can verify. The number one reason for denied disability claims is errors and lack of evidence to support the claim. If the SSA denies a disability claim, the applicant can file an appeal and schedule an appeal hearing process with an administrative law judge in the district. 

When filing an appeal, a Social Security disability lawyer can expedite the process.

Request for Reconsideration

When the SSA denies a disability claim, the SSA will send the applicant a notice of denial. The applicant then has 60 days from the date on the notice to make a written “Request for Reconsideration.” During this process, the SSA will ask the applicant to submit to further medical examinations that may involve doctor’s visits and medical treatments to verify the claimant’s medical condition and disability.

Request for an Administrative Legal Hearing

If the SSA denies a claim after the claimant files the Request for Reconsideration, the applicant will receive a second notice of denial from the SSA. The applicant then has 60 days from the date on this notice to make a written request for a hearing before an administration legal judge (ALJ) who conducts legal hearings for the SSA. During the hearing, the ALJ may call on medical professionals, medical experts, and vocational witnesses to testify on pertinent matters during the court hearing. The intent of a legal hearing is to validate a credible Social Security disability claim.

Request for Review by the Appeals Council

If a legal hearing does not have a successful outcome, the claimant and his or her disability lawyer can request a review by the Appeals Council. Once you receive the denial notice from the ALJ or SSA, the applicant has 60 days to make a written request for this review. Common reasons for a review by the Appeals Council include mistakes made by the ALJ; an ALJ decision not supported by substantial evidence; or an indiscretion or abuse during the ALJ hearing process. Once the Appeals Council completes its review, it has three choices: (1) Validate the ALJ’s decision, (2) send the case back to the ALJ for further consideration, or (3) approve the applicant’s claim.