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How Does a Social Security Judge Decide if I have “Transferable Skills” for Grid Rule Purposes?

transferable skillsThis is a good question – the short answer is that judges will look to vocational expert witness testimony to determine whether a claimant has acquired transferable skills.

Your question got me thinking that it might be helpful to review how the grid rules work and to take my readers through a grid rule analysis, so, here you go:

The grid rules, or “medical vocational guidelines” can qualify you for Social Security disability benefits even if you have some capacity to work, but you are not likely to find work because of limited skills and a limited education.

In order to qualify for a finding of disability under the grid rules you must have exertional limitations. This means that your medical issues must impact your physical capacity. Thus, a person asserting disability based on depression, or bi-polar disorder, or schizophrenia could never qualify under the grid rules [1. Such a person could, however, qualify for disability based on a listing or using a functional capacity argument.]

You can look at the grid rules here.

The grid rules look at several factors: your age, your education, the skill level of your past work and whether or not your past work generated any transferrable skills. SSA lays out these factors in a table divided by grid lines – thus the name.

When a judge applies the grid rules he first must make a decision about your capacity for work. If you are limited to sedentary work, you are more likely to be found disabled under the grid rules than if you are limited to light or medium work.

Let’s analyze how the grid rules work in practice. Continue reading →

How Does a Social Security Judge Decide if I have "Transferable Skills" for Grid Rule Purposes?

transferable skillsThis is a good question – the short answer is that judges will look to vocational expert witness testimony to determine whether a claimant has acquired transferable skills.

Your question got me thinking that it might be helpful to review how the grid rules work and to take my readers through a grid rule analysis, so, here you go:

The grid rules, or “medical vocational guidelines” can qualify you for Social Security disability benefits even if you have some capacity to work, but you are not likely to find work because of limited skills and a limited education.

In order to qualify for a finding of disability under the grid rules you must have exertional limitations. This means that your medical issues must impact your physical capacity. Thus, a person asserting disability based on depression, or bi-polar disorder, or schizophrenia could never qualify under the grid rules [1. Such a person could, however, qualify for disability based on a listing or using a functional capacity argument.]

You can look at the grid rules here.

The grid rules look at several factors: your age, your education, the skill level of your past work and whether or not your past work generated any transferrable skills. SSA lays out these factors in a table divided by grid lines – thus the name.

When a judge applies the grid rules he first must make a decision about your capacity for work. If you are limited to sedentary work, you are more likely to be found disabled under the grid rules than if you are limited to light or medium work.

Let’s analyze how the grid rules work in practice. Continue reading →

Use a Cane? Get a Prescription

walking cane and SSDIThis year, I have represented three clients who use a cane either all of the time or most of the time but whose use of this assistive device was discounted by the judge because the cane was not prescribed by a physician.

The issue in your Social Security disability case is whether you can perform even a simple, entry-level type of job.  Our goal, therefore, involves identifying specific limitations that would impact your ability to perform work.

If you cannot walk without a cane or walker, it stands to reason that you would not be able to perform jobs requiring:

  • more than very occasional standing
  • more than occasional walking
  • balancing
  • climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds
  • kneeling, bending and stooping
  • crouching and crawling

Further your need for a walking cane would support allegations of pain and other activity limitations (such as lifting and carrying) associated with back or knee injuries.

In short, if the judge accepts that you need a cane to walk, he will eliminate from consideration all jobs except sedentary (sit down) types of jobs.

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Onset Dates, Consultative Exams and Cynical Judges

When you appear before a Social Security judge for a hearing, there are four possible outcomes:

  1. you will be approved
  2. you will be denied
  3. your case will be continued to another date for a supplemental hearing
  4. the judge will issue a “partially favorable” decision

GavelOver the past couple of years I have noticed an increase in the number of partially favorable decisions I am receiving.  I think this is because my clients, especially low income clients, do not have access to regular medical care and judges are using consultative exam reports to move the alleged onset dates.

Here is an example of what I mean:  a couple of weeks ago, I tried a case before a judge who is generally considered to be very reluctant to approve cases.  At the time of the hearing my client was a month shy of her 52nd birthday.  She had a 10th grade education and past work as a short order cook.  She alleged disability due to uncontrolled diabetes, numbness in her feet and hands, vision issues and pain.

She last worked 3 years previously, when she was 48 years old.

In reviewing this case, I saw it as a “grid rule” case.   Grid rule 201.10 provides that a 50 year old claimant with less than a high school education, semi-skilled work but no transferable skills who was limited to sedentary work due to an exertional limitation would qualify for disability. Continue reading →

Understanding How Social Security Classifies Your Past Work

warehouseworkerLike many federal bureaucracies, Social Security has developed its own language for describing many of the concepts that underlie a disability evaluation.  Since disability considers your capacity to work by looking at both your past work and about other jobs, a description of your past work is an important part of your case evaluation.   You should try to become familiar with some of these terms prior to your hearing.

At Social Security hearings, judges often call vocational witnesses to classify your past relevant work.   Generally Social Security is concerned with your past relevant work over the past 15 years.  Short durations jobs of less than 3 months are usually considered unsuccessful work attempts (UWA) and don’t count as past relevant work.

Vocational witnesses identify both the “exertional level” of your past relevant work as well as the “skill level” of that work.   Jobs are classified exertionally as:

  • sedentary
  • light
  • medium
  • heavy
  • very heavy

More explanation about what these exertional levels mean – page on this blog;  post from Colorado disability lawyer Tomasz Stasiuk

Jobs are classified by skill level as:

  • unskilled
  • semi-skilled
  • skilled

Vocational experts use a resource called the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (D.O.T.) to classify the exertional and skill level of every job that (in theory) exists in the national economy of the United States.  You can read the D.O.T. online by clicking on the link. Continue reading →

What are the “Grid” Rules and Where Can I Find Them?

Jonathan, what are the grid rules you mentioned? (why is your case easier to win if you are over 50)?
–Janet

Jonathan Ginsberg responds: The “grids” are rules that can make it easier for you to be found disabled. Social Security recognizes that if you are over 50, have a limited education and have limited job skills, you will have a more difficult time re-entering the work force. Job possibilities become even harder at 55 and even more so at 60.

If you put these factors (age, education ,transferability of skills, work capacity) into a table, you can construct a grid of intersecting boxes.  Thus – the “grids.”  The official name for the grids is the “medical vocational guidelines.”

Under the grids, you can be found disabled even if you can still perform certain types of work. By contrast, cliamants under the age of 50 generally would not be found disabled if they could do any work.

The grids are a series of tables that consider these factors. You can look at the grids by clicking on the link.

Example: Under grid rule 201.04, a 55 year old individual who can perform sedentary (sit down) work who is a high school graduate, with an unskilled work background and who does not have the skills to perform semi-skilled or skilled work would be found disabled under the grids.

Note that the grid rules only apply if your medical condition limits your physical capacity for work.  You cannot “grid out” for a mental health problem.

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