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Can I Be Considered Disabled Under Social Security's “Worn Out Worker” Rule?

Posted on in Social Security Disability

b2ap3_thumbnail_worn-out-worker-rule-Chicago.jpgThere is an often overlooked qualification for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits called the “worn out worker” rule. This is technically known in the Social Security regulations as “medical-vocational profiles showing an inability to make an adjustment to other work.” The basic idea is that some older unskilled laborers lack sufficient education to adjust to a new field of employment; as a result, they may receive disability benefits even if they do not qualify under normal standards.

In a disability review, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) must assess an applicant's “residual functional capacity,” that is his or her ability to perform work taking into account any physical or mental impairments. Social Security typically denies disability benefits if the RFC indicates the applicant can still do “lighter work.” However, if the applicant qualifies under the worn out worker rule, then he or she may be considered disabled regardless of the RFC.

The worn out worker rule has four basic qualifications:

  1. The applicant must have “no more than a marginal education,” which Social Security defines as equal or less than a sixth-grade education;
  2. The applicant must have at least 35 years of work experience;
  3. The applicant must have only performed “arduous unskilled physical labor” during that time; and
  4. The applicant can no longer perform this work due to one or more “severe impairments.”

High School Education Disqualifies Disability Applicant

It is not easy to qualify for disability benefits under the worn out worker rule. Many applicants are not even aware the rule exists. Even when they are, Social Security and the courts apply the qualifications strictly.

For example, an Illinois magistrate recently held that Social Security was right to deny disability benefits under the worn out worker rule in a case involving an applicant with severe vision and chronic pain impairments. At a hearing before the ALJ, the applicant testified he had worked as a construction laborer for approximately 37 years. He also said he was a high school graduate and completed post-graduate work at a trade school.

This level of education rendered the applicant ineligible for disability under the worn out worker rule, the magistrate said. As noted above, the rule requires no more than a “marginal” or sixth-grade education. Graduating high school obviously exceeds this rule.

Need Help Dealing With Social Security?

Remember, the worn out worker rule is something of a last resort. Social Security will only consider it after assessing your claim under the normal disability rules. However, if you think you may qualify as a “worn out” worker, it is important to speak with an experienced Chicago disability benefits lawyer as soon as possible. Call Pearson Disability Law, LLC, if you need to speak with a Social Security attorney right away.




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