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What role does age play in your SSDI or SSI claim?

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What role does age play in your SSDI or SSI claim?


The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers wage replacement benefits through two separate governmental programs: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The role of age in determining disability benefits differs for each of these programs.

SSI Benefits and Age

Claimants may qualify for SSI benefits if they are aged, disabled or blind; if they have very limited income and resources; and if they are not able to work for at least 12 continuous months. SSI benefits have no minimum age requirements and can be awarded to any person from birth.

If the applicant is a child, which means that they are not married, they are under the age of 18, or they under the 22 (if they are a student regularly attending school), they will be evaluated using the criteria established for children.

When the child reaches 18 years of age, the SSA will re-evaluate their health condition, using the definition of disability for adults, to determine if they are still entitled to SSI benefits.

Claimants older than 18 years of age (and younger than 65) who apply for SSI benefits must meet the criteria outlined above (i.e. have a severe mental or physical health condition, lack the ability to work for at least 12 continuous months, and have limited income and resources), but they will be evaluated using the criteria for adults.

Age 65 Years or Older and Applying for SSI Benefits

Claimants who are 65 years or older can apply for SSI benefits if their income and resources are limited. They do not have to be disabled. For example, individuals who do not have sufficient work credits to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits may, instead, apply for SSI benefits.

SSDI and Age

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is available to workers who have a severe mental or physical health condition that does not allow them to work for at least 12 continuous months. To qualify for SSDI, however, workers must have sufficient work credits that they have earned by paying employment taxes.

Claimants who are younger than 22 years of age generally do not have sufficient work credits to qualify for SSDI benefits. For example, according to the SSA, “If you become disabled before age 24, you generally need 1½ years of work (six credits) in the three years before you became disabled to qualify for SSDI.”

Qualifying for SSDI as an Adult Child?

Another consideration for claimants who are over the age of 18 but their disability started prior to the age of 22 is whether or not they can qualify to receive “disabled adult child” SSDI benefits. To qualify under this specific program, the individual must:

  • Be over the age of 18
  • Not married
  • Disabled prior to the age of 22
  • Have a parent who currently receives SSA benefits or is dead but received SSA benefits at the time of their death

Adult child benefits allow the qualifying individual to collect SSDI benefits based on their parent’s Social Security earnings.

Age and the Disability Determination for SSDI Benefits

Age is not just a factor when an individual applies for disability benefits. Age can also be an important factor when the SSA is making a disability determination for SSDI benefits and whether or not a claimant has the ability to retrain for new work. Let’s take a closer look at this process.

When does the SSA consider my age for SSDI?

The Social Security Administration will consider a claimant disabled, assuming that they meet the non-medical requirements for SSDI, if they meet a listing on the SSA Listing of Impairments or if they have a condition that is so severe that the SSA determines they cannot work their current job, any past relevant job or retrain for new work.

Age is not a factor if the claimant’s condition meets a listing or if the SSA decides that they can work their current job. Age does become a factor when the SSA is considering whether or not a claimant can retrain for new work, a determination that is made in the last step of the disability evaluation process.

At this step, the SSA has developed what they call medical vocational grids, which allow them to consider a variety of factors—age, skills, education and residual functional capacity to work—when making a disability decision.

Within these grids, there are age categories: 18–44 (young), 45–49 (younger), 50–54 (approaching advanced age), 55–59 (advanced age) and 60–65 (closely approaching retirement). The SSA will use these age categories, in conjunction with the other factors, to determine if the claimant is disabled.

For example, using the appropriate grid, if you were age 45 to 49 but you could do sedentary work, the SSA would deny you disability, even if you only had a high school diploma and had not done skilled work. In this case, the SSA would generally conclude that because you are younger, you would have the skills to retrain for new work.

If you were 50 or older, however, your claim would be viewed through a different set of grid rules. These grid rules would allow the SSA to find you disabled due to your age and your inability to transfer your skills to sedentary work.

Bottom line: age can be a factor in the disability application process as well as in determining whether a claimant is disabled.

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