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The Medical-Vocational Guidelines are used by Social Security to determine disability due to exertional impairments at step 5 of the sequential evaluation process.

The guidelines, or the “grids,” consider a claimant’s exertional level (that’s the medical part) and the claimant’s age, education and work history (the vocational factors). Depending upon these medical-vocational factors, the SSA determines that a person is either disabled or not disabled.

The purpose of the guidelines is to allow the SSA to decide thousands and thousands of claims without resorting to individualized vocational evidence for each one.

In general, the grids are not where you want to be as a claimant, because the grids direct a finding of “not disabled” in most situations. In fact, every claimant loses under the grids until age 50 (or age 45 if unable to communicate in English).

However, the grids can benefit older disability claimants. Once you reach the age of 50 (and have no transferable skills, or education that allows direct entry into skilled work), the grids direct a finding of “disabled” at the sedentary exertional level. At age 55, that same claimant grids “disabled” at the light exertional level. The SSA presumes that the transition to unskilled sedentary work is too difficult for these claimants.

Let’s look at an example to see how the grids operate.

Consider a worker with a high school education and past relevant work as a painter, which is a medium exertional job. If Social Security assessed a residual functional capacity (RFC) at the light exertional level, that claimant could no longer perform his past work at step 4 of the sequential evaluation process.

However, at step 5 the Medical-Vocational Guidelines direct different results depending upon he age of the claimant. A claimant over the age of 55 will be awarded disability benefits, via Medical-Vocational Rule 202.06. A claimant under 55 will be denied, under Medical-Vocational Rule 202.14.

That is a simple example of how the grids operate. The example also demonstrates how a Social Security disability lawyer analyzes a case and develops a winning theory for the case. Developing a winning theory at the beginning of a case is perhaps a disability lawyer’s most important task, and it is the aspect of my disability law practice that I enjoy the most.