The Social Security Disability program provides benefits for individuals who suffer from physical or mental disabilities that prevent them from working. But the eligibility criteria for the program are strict, and applicants must demonstrate to the Social Security Administration (SSA) that their condition meets the agency’s very strict definition of “disability.” Applicants whose conditions do not exactly match the SSA’s criteria may nonetheless be eligible for benefits under a medical-vocational allowance. An experienced Baltimore Social Security Disability attorney can help you apply for Social Security Disability benefits through one of these allowances.
What Is a Medical-Vocational Allowance?
A medical-vocational allowance is an alternative route for qualifying for Social Security Disability benefits for applicants whose conditions do not exactly match those on the SSA’s official list of disabling conditions.
The SSA evaluates eligibility for benefits using a five-step process. First, the agency will determine whether the applicant is currently working or otherwise engaging in Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA). Second, it will determine whether the applicant’s condition is “severe” — i.e., whether it limits the applicant from performing basic work-related activities for at least 12 months. Third, it will determine whether the applicant’s condition meets a listing in the Blue Book. Fourth, it determines whether the applicant is capable of performing the work he or she did previously, and fifth, it determines whether the applicant is capable of doing any other type of work.
Many applicants face difficulties at the third step, which requires them to demonstrate that their condition matches a specific listing in the Blue Book. Because each applicant is different and experiences different symptoms, their condition may not exactly match the Blue Book guidelines. If an applicant’s medical condition does not match a Blue Book listing, but nonetheless is seriously disabling and prevents him or her from working, the applicant may still qualify for benefits under a medical-vocational allowance.
Factors the SSA Considers for Medical-Vocational Allowances
The SSA takes five factors into account when determining whether an applicant may qualify for benefits under a medical-vocational allowance: age, education, past work experience, transferability of skills, and residual functional capacity.
The SSA groups applicants into four age groups:
- Advanced age (55 and over)
- Closely approaching advanced age (50-54)
- Younger individuals aged 45-49
- Younger individuals aged 18-44
Generally, the older the applicant is, the easier it will be to qualify for benefits under a medical-vocational allowance.
There are four education levels the SSA divides applicants into:
- High school graduate or more with training for skilled work
- High school graduate or more without training for skilled work
- Limited education (11th grade and below)
- Illiterate (unable to communicate in English)
For most applicants, the lower their education level, the more likely they are to qualify for benefits.
Past Work Experience
The SSA looks into applicants’ employment histories to determine the level of skill that they are likely to possess, dividing applicants into three categories:
- Skilled: work that generally involves laying out work, estimating quality, determining the suitability and needed quantities of materials, making precise measurements, reading blueprints or other specifications, or making necessary computations or mechanical adjustments to control or regulate the work
- Semi-skilled: work that generally involves alertness and close attention to watching machine processes; or inspecting, testing or otherwise looking for irregularities; or tending or guarding equipment, property, materials, or persons against loss, damage or injury
- Unskilled: work that generally involves little or no judgment to do simple duties that can be learned on the job in a short period of time
Transferability of Skills
The degree to which an applicant’s work skills can be transferred to other jobs is largely dependent upon his or her skill level. For example, an applicant who is classified as “skilled” will have a harder time qualifying for benefits, as skilled workers can also do semi-skilled and unskilled work. Generally, an applicant who has very few skills or skills that are very specific to a certain job function will have difficulty transferring them to other jobs. If you are unsure of whether you possess skills that can be transferred to another job, a Baltimore Social Security Disability attorney can help you.
Residual Functional Capacity
An applicant’s residual functional capacity (RFC) refers to the applicant’s ability to do physical and mental work-related activities after taking his or her disability into account. It measures both “exertional capacity” (e.g., sitting, standing, walking, lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling) and “non-exertional capacity” (e.g., seeing and hearing, speaking, following instructions, interacting socially, etc.). The SSA will then classify the type of work the applicant may be able to do into one of the following categories:
- Sedentary work: Lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time and occasionally lifting or carrying articles like docket files, ledgers, and small tools
- Light work: Lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10 pounds
- Medium work: Lifting no more than 50 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 25 pounds
- Heavy work: Lifting no more than 100 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 50 pounds
- Very heavy work: Lifting objects weighing more than 100 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing 50 pounds or more
Putting it All Together: The Grids
The SSA takes all five factors into account when determining whether an applicant may qualify for a medical-vocational allowance. It does this through the use of a series of grids that weigh each factor. For example, using the SSA’s grid for individuals with light work RFCs, an applicant whose inputs were [advanced age + limited education + unskilled/untransferable] would be found disabled. On the other hand, an applicant whose inputs were [closely approaching advanced age + high school graduate + skilled/untransferable] would be found not disabled.
Contact a Baltimore Social Security Disability Attorney for More Information
For more information about qualifying for Social Security Disability benefits through a medical-vocational allowance, please contact Baltimore Social Security Disability attorney Emmett B. Irwin by calling 443-839-0818 or using our online contact form.