I often handle Social Security disability claims of those age 55 and over. Some of these clients contact me at the beginning of the process, to help with their application for disability benefits. I encourage this practice, since it can avoid a long wait for benefits and increase the chances of an award of benefits by avoiding some common mistakes in the disability process.
Focus on the Requirements of Past Relevant Work
If a disability claimant is age 55 or over, and you can establish a physical RFC for less than medium exertional work, then the whole case revolves around the step 4 determination of whether or not this claimant can perform his or her past relevant work. If you can get past step 4 to to step 5, the claimant will grid "disabled" under Medical Vocational Guidelines 201.06 or 202.06 (assuming no transferable skills that would allow a significant range of skilled work within the claimant's RFC, and no recent education that provides direct entry into skilled work).
When I first review one of these claim files (assuming it is a case that I did not assist the claimant with the initial application), I get the details about past relevant work from the adult disability report and the work history report. I spend a significant amount of time evaluating these reports and comparing the job requirements against the claimant's current abilities. A claimant must be unable to perform both the past work as actually performed and as generally performed in the national economy.
What can be frustrating about these claims is that the lawyer knows that he will win the claim at step 5 of the sequential evaluation if he can only get past step 4. But getting past step 4 is not always easy, because Social Security's regulations treat claimants with different vocational backgrounds differently.
Find a limitation that rules out past work
Remember, Social Security must consider your combination of impairments. No limitation is too small to rule out past relevant work. Often, even the DDS RFC assessment will assess a functional limitation that precludes past relevant work.
You can "mix and match" these impairments in steps 4 and 5. Perhaps a functional limitation from a mental impairment, such as an inablility to work with the general public, rules out one past job. A limitation to only "occasional" reaching might rule out another. And then a less than medium physical RFC will win the claim at step 5 for a claimant age 55 or over (in the absence of transferable skills that would allow a significant range of skilled work within the claimant's RFC, or education that provides direct entry into skilled work).
Getting past step 4 of the sequential evaluation is always important, unless a listing is met. But for claimants of advanced age, or closely approaching advanced age, the step 4 finding will usually determine the success of the claim.