The Social Security Administration implements the medical-vocational grid rules to make disability determinations when applicants do not meet a medical impairment listing. When their conditions match the criteria set out in the Social Security “Blue Book,” people may automatically qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. However, they may still qualify for and receive disability if the agency determines they have a medical condition, which causes an impairment that prevents them from working.
Understanding the Medical-Vocational Grid Rules
The medical-vocational grid rules are used by the SSA to determine disability in cases when applicants do not immediately qualify through a medical impairment criteria match. Using a series of charts, the SSA considers applicants’ ages, residual functional capacity, skills used in their last jobs, the transferability of applicants’ job skills and their education levels.
A chart exists for the categories of work-related exertion, including sedentary, light and medium. Since it is generally held that those able to perform heavy and very heavy work do not suffer from a disabling impairment, there are no charts for those exertion level categories.
Using the Grid Rules to Determine Disability
The grid rules require the SSA to make determinations on applicants’ exertional levels based on their submitted documentation. Once their work-related exertion level is determined, Social Security matches applicants’ ages and education levels with the corresponding chart for their exertion abilities to direct a finding of disabled or not disabled. On the grids, age ranges are grouped as younger individuals, ranging from 18-years-old to 49-years-old; closely approaching advanced age, between 50 and 54-years-old; and advanced age, 55-years and older. Education levels are grouped as marginal to none, limited high school, high school graduate with direct entrance into skilled work and high school graduate without direct entry into skilled work.
Challenging Decisions Based on the Medical-Vocational Grids
Applicants who are determined not to be disabled using the grid rules may refute the applicable medical-vocational guideline. For example, applicants may show they cannot perform even a sit-down job or that they suffer from multiple impairments that lower their residual functional capacity. In some cases, the Social Security Administration may treat people close to reaching the next age category, and who would qualify for benefits upon moving into the next category, as if they have already reached it and award them benefits, despite a finding of not disabled based on the grid rules.