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Vocational factor regulations for SSD benefits under review

In proposed federal regulations issued last September, the Social Security Administration solicited public comment addressing how it should consider age, education and work experience factors when making adult disability claims under the Social Security Act. The SSA is considering these comments because there were significant changes in technology and workforce demographics since it adopted its regulations 38 years ago.

A claimant is disabled under the law when the claimant cannot engage in any substantial gainful activity because of a mental or physical impairment that is expected to result in death or last 12 months. Claimants are also disabled where their age, education and work experience along with their disability preclude them from engaging in employment other than their previous occupations.

The SSA uses a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether the applicant meets the Act's disability criteria for SSD benefits. If the applicant does not meet any step in the process, the SSA does not go onto the next step.

The SSA reviews the vocational factors of age, educational and work experience at step 5 of its process where it determines whether a claimant can perform work other than their earlier occupation. It uses medical-vocational profiles and guidelines when making these decisions.

These requirements are based upon the assumption that age is a limiting factor in a person's ability to adjust to other work. Additionally, higher levels of education and certain types of recent education enhance a claimant's ability to adjust to other work. Finally, an individual who performed skilled or semi-skilled work may have acquired transferrable skills.

The application process for Social Security disability benefits is complex. An experienced disability benefits lawyer can help a claimant navigate the process.

Source:, "Vocational factors of age, education, and work experience in the adult disability determination process," accessed Jan. 11, 2016

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