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  • Christopher Le

Using Medical-Vocational "Grid" Rules To Determine Disability

Social Security decides whether you are disabled using a five-step process called the Sequential Evaluation Process. The last two steps are typically the most important. Step 4 is determining whether you can do your past line of work and Step 5 is focused on whether a claimant could do another line of work or job that exists in our national economy.

This is a complex process, but a part of it involves the Medical Vocational Guidelines, also called “The Grids”, which helps guide the SSA in determining disability. When an applicant’s conditions does not meet or equal a medical impairment listing and/or the applicant is found to not be able to do “past relevant work,” Social Security will then use the “The Grids”, to help determine disability.

The Grids Help Simplify A Complex Analysis

Using the grids requires Social Security to determine the physical capabilities of the applicant and cross references those abilities with the applicant’s age, education and ability to do past relevant work.

Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)

The first step in using the grids to determine the residual functional capacity (RFC) of an applicant. Normally, the Administrative Law Judge, will review the medical evidence and listen to an applicants testimony in order to determine their RFC. There are 5 RFCs:

  • Sedentary Work;

  • Light Work;

  • Medium Work;

  • Heavy Work; and

  • Very Heavy Work.

An applicant, however, can only be found disabled using the grids if he or she has a sedentary, light or medium RFC. Click Here to View the Grid Rules.


Social security recognizes that the older an individual is, the more difficult it may be for an individual to adjust to new work. There are three age groups:

  • 18-49 years old = “younger individual”

  • 50-54 years old = “approaching advanced age”

  • 55 and older = “advanced age”

The GRID rules typically favors those individuals in the 50 and older age range.


The amount of education is important in determining disability. The lower the educational level, the tougher it is for the applicant to find work. So having a limited education actually helps an applicant under the GRID rules.

Previous Work

Depending on the past work of an applicant, he or she may have acquired skills helpful to finding new work. Social Security will classify the skill level of an applicant’s past work and determine if the past work provides any skills that can be transferred to other work. For example, if an applicant has done construction work their entire life, the skills learned in that line of work cannot be transferred to a receptionist position. If an applicant does not have any skills that could transfer to another line of work, this could help them qualify for benefits.

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