Using the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, or “Grids” to which they are commonly referred, in the appropriate Social Security disability claims can often mean a guaranteed victory for your clients. There is a section of the law tucked quietly away in the appendices of the Social Security Act that is used for determining whether a person is automatically entitled to Social Security disability benefits based on their age, education, prior work experience and maximum exertional capacity. See, http://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/cfr20/404/404-app-p02.htm. If a claimant meets certain criteria listed in these Grids based upon the medical evidence in the claim file, a favorable determination must be made by Social Security.

To illustrate how this works, let me generally present the facts of a hearing I had today: A 61 year old individual with a high school education and prior work experience in construction and as a process server has undergone two (2) total knee replacements and has a torn rotator cuff in his dominant right shoulder documented by an MRI. We have an opinion from his orthopedic surgeon that states he is capable of sedentary work, but no more than that.

Many inexperienced attorneys would look at that opinion as adverse to a claim for Social Security disability benefits. They would think that any opinion stating an individual has the ability to work in a full time job, sedentary or otherwise, means the individual is sure to be denied because they are not “totally disabled from gainful employment” as required. This is far from the truth. That opinion of a maximum sedentary capacity guarantees my client a victory, and it’s all because of the Grids.

Looking at the Medical-Vocational Guidelines we see several categories itemized in a chart format. Rule 201.06 is the important rule for this example. We have an individual of Advanced Age (55 years or older) with a high school education who has past relevant work as a laborer (heavy/unskilled) and process server (light/semiskilled) and a maximum exertional level of sedentary as documented by the doctor’s opinion obtained by our firm. In the final column labeled “Decision” it states “Disabled”. This is the decision that the Social Security Administration is REQUIRED to render for any individual who meets each of these categories AND has never performed sedentary work in the past. These Grids are Social Security’s way of acknowledging that once you hit a certain age, retraining for some lighter duty job is often not possible in our economy.

As often happens, Social Security did not initially issue the correct decision in our client’s claim at the outset of the process, and we had to get involved to protect his interests. But by obtaining the appropriate medical opinions and presenting our argument based on the Grids, we were ultimately able to obtain a favorable decision for our client in his Social Security disability claim.