age 55 People often respond to a question about their age with: “Age is just a number.”  To the Social Security Administration when it comes to disability benefits age is just a number, too and that number is 55. The SSA considers you of “advanced age” if you are between 55 and 59 years old. Here’s why that matters.

Social Security Disability Programs at 55 or Any Age

If you are disabled you may be awarded Social Security disability benefits if you can prove—with solid medical evidence—that your impairment has lasted or is expected to last for 12 months or longer and it prevents you from working. The Social Security Administration has two programs which may be able to offer you financial assistance—Social Security Disability Insurance—known as SSDI—for those who have worked in the past and made Social Security contributions, and Supplemental Security Income—known as SSI—designed to help those with little or no income. Because the road to benefits can be difficult to navigate, it’s very helpful to hire an experienced local disability attorney to help through the process and present your case.

How You Qualify for Benefits

The SSA has a set of procedures in place to identify disabilities that are medically eligible for benefits. These procedures are published in a handbook known as the “Blue Book,” and it includes a lengthy list of various disabling conditions known as “listings.”

While few people meet the requirements of the Blue Book listings, you may still be approved based upon your age, education, and work experience. Social Security will make this determination based on whether you can sustain competitive employment on a consistent, full-time basis, or an equivalent schedule. It is important to note that word age. Let’s look at how that factors into Social Security disability benefit decisions.

Qualifying for Disability Benefits if You Are Past Age 55

It is a bit easier to win disability benefits when you are past age 55 than if you are in your 20s, 30s, or 40s. Younger people must prove that they can’t perform even the easiest sit-down jobs before the Social Security Administration will award them disability benefits. People closer to retirement age might be disabled even though they can do sit-down jobs because SSA applies special rules under their medical-vocational guidelines—also known as the “grid”.

The SSA will begin by looking at your residual functional capacity (RFC). The RFC is an evaluation of what you can still do despite your impairment(s). One of the most important pieces of evidence in a Social Security disability case is your own treating doctor’s opinion about your RFC. The RFC will be used to categorize your maximum sustained work capability into a classification of sedentary, light, medium, heavy, or very heavy work. The grid chart will contain your exertion level and the chart will match it with your age, education, and past work to evaluate your ability to engage in substantial gainful activity (another way of saying work that involves significant physical or mental activity and is performed for pay or profit.) To sum all of this up, the grid rules allow the Social Security Administration to consider factors which can make it daunting for people over 55 to switch jobs.

At 55 or Any Age: No Guarantees

Even though you have a somewhat better chance of winning Social Security disability benefits if you are over 55, there are no guarantees that you will qualify. The road to securing the benefits you have earned is difficult to navigate and less than one-third of those who initially apply are awarded benefits. But a federal government study showed that if a claimant had a representative, such as an attorney, they were three times more likely to be allowed benefits than someone who had no representation at all. 

If you’re struggling to get the disability benefits you have earned, you don’t need to take on Social Security alone. Our skilled and experienced disability attorneys are in your corner and will fight for your rights.  Contact us today for a free and honest evaluation of your disability claim and when you hire us, we only get paid when you win your case.


Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska
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