How SSA Uses Medical-Vocational Guidelines (“Grids”) to Determine Disability
At Step 5 of the Sequential Evaluation process, it becomes clear that that the claimant cannot return to his/her past employment. The new question becomes, “Can the claimant do any job readily available in the economy?” The Social Security Administration (SSA) must prove that such a job exists in order to deny benefits.
To prove jobs exist for persons with disabilities, the SSA promulgated regulations known as the Medical-Vocational Guidelines. The guidelines contain 3 charts. When a claimant’s work factors and RFC match the information within the grid, a conclusive finding of “disabled” or “not disabled” can be drawn.
Several factors are considered including:
- work history
- Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)
Not Applicable where:
The grids do not apply in cases where the claimant’s specific work profile does not fit within the guidelines. This occurs when a claimant’s specific abilities fall between two levels. In these cases, the grids merely provide a “framework” and full consideration will be given to case specific facts. A vocational expert (VE) will usually be asked to give an opinion in this situation.
A Closer Look:
Older age is an adverse factor. It affects an individual’s ability to adapt to a new work situation and work with others in a competitive environment. 4 categories are listed on the Grid for age including:
- Younger Individual (18-49);
- Approaching Advanced Age (50-54);
- Advanced Age (55-59); and
- Closely Approaching Retirement Age (60-64)
The highest grade a claimant completed determines the education level. Evidence will also be considered that a claimant’s education level is lower than the last grade completed. The grids incorporate the following levels of education:
- Marginal (0-6 years);
- Limited (7-11 years); and
- High School or more (12 years or more)
Work is classified in 3 areas.
- Unskilled (learned in 30 days or less)
- Semiskilled (months)
- Skilled (all other)
- Residual Functional Capacity (RFC):
RFC is a fancy way of measuring a person’s abilities given their limitations. 7 primary strength activities of work are weighed including sitting, standing, walking, lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling. The exertion levels are as follows:
- Sedentary Work (deskbound)
- Light Work
- Medium Work
- Heavy Work
- Very Heavy Work
Other Factors Considered:
The transferability of skills is crucial for determining where a claimant falls on the grid. Transferable skills are those skills a claimant acquired in past work that may be used in other jobs. Past jobs must:
- Be within a15 year time frame
- Meet SGA earnings requirements, and
- Have lasted long enough for the individual to learn relevant skills
To assess skill levels VE’s look to the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT). The DOT provides a list of occupations with a numeric code, brief description, and list of skills involved. An extensive list of occupations can be found on the DOT website ( http://www.occupationalinfo.org).