Van Nuys Social Security disability cases and the Medical Vocational Guidelines

Most Los Angeles and Van Nuys disability claimants will need to prove that they can no longer do their past jobs at Step 4 of the sequential evaluation process, and they cannot adapt to other jobs considering their age education and past experience at Step 5.

Step 5 is the last and most complicated step in the sequential evaluation process. At Step 5, Social Security decision makers apply rules know as the Medical Vocational Guidelines to determine if you are disabled. Before applying the Guidelines, Social Security decision makers must first assess your residual functional capacity (RFC) and categorize your age, education, and experience.

The Medical Vocation Guidelines

The Medical Vocational Guidelines are also called the grids because they consist of three charts, one for each level of residual functional capacity: medium, light, and sedentary. Each chart contains four columns: age, education, previous work experience, and decision (disabled or not disabled). Social security decision makers look at the chart that matches your RFC, and find the row that matches your age, education, and previous work experience. If the decision column says “disabled” you will be awarded benefits.

The grids are based on the notion that the younger and better educated you are and the more work experience you have, the more easily you can adapt to a new job despite a physical impairment.

Assessing your RFC

RFC is defined as your maximum remaining ability to do work activities on a regular and continuing basis, which means for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.
To determine your RFC, Social Security decision makers look at your strength or “exertional” limitations. These are limitations on your ability to sit, stand, walk, lift, carry, push, and pull. These restrictions are classified as:

  • Ability to do no more than medium work. Medium work requires maximum lifting of 50 pounds and frequent lifting of up to 25 pounds. It also requires the ability to stand or walk for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday.
  • Ability to do no more than light work. Light work requires maximum lifting of 20 pounds and frequent lifting or carrying of up to 10 pounds. It also requires the ability to stand or walk for 6 hours of an 8-hour workday.
  • Ability to do no more than sedentary work. Sedentary work requires lifting no more than 10 pounds and occasionally lifting or carrying small articles. Sedentary jobs require periods of standing or walking generally totaling no more than about 2 hours of an 8-hour workday. Most unskilled sedentary jobs require good use of fingers and hands. The main difference between light and sedentary jobs is that light jobs require a significant amount of walking or standing.

Categorizing your age, education, and work experience


The grids are divided into four age categories:

  • Age 18 to 49, called “younger individuals”.
  • Age 50 to 54, called “closely approaching advanced age.”
  • Age 55 to 59, called “advanced age.”
  • Age 60 to 64 called “closely approaching retirement age.”

The older you are, the easier it is for you to be found disabled under the grids because the more difficult it is for you to adapt to new work.


The grids recognize five categories of education:

  • Illiterate.
  • Marginal education, which is less than a 6th grade education.
  • Limited education, which is less than a high school education.
  • High school education or higher, but with no past skills that provide for direct entry into semi-skilled or skilled work.
  • High school education or higher, with past relevant work that provides for direct entry into skilled work.

Past work experience

The grids divide all past work into two categories:

  • Unskilled work defined as work that can be learned in 30 days or less.
  • Skilled and semi-skilled.

Applying the grids

As a general rule, to be disabled under the grids, a claimant under age 50 must be unable to do even a sedentary job. A claimant between ages 50 and 54 must be able to do no more than a sedentary job and a claimant aged 55 or older must be able to do no more than a light job.

Example: A construction worker is 46 years old (a younger individual). He did not finish high school. He has done heavy unskilled construction work since he began working in his teens. He has an RFC that limits him to sedentary work because of a pulmonary problem. He is not disabled under the grids. But if that worker were 50 years old (closely approaching advanced age), with the same RFC for sedentary work, and the same education and work experience, he would be disabled under the grids.

Non-exertional limitations

Even if you are not disabled under the grids, you may still be approved for disability benefits because you have non-exertional limitations that interfere with your ability to work. Non-exertional limitations include limitations on your ability to:

  • Bend, stoop, climb, balance, kneel, crouch, and crawl.
  • Use your hands to reach, handle, finger, and feel.
  • See objects up close, and at a distance, and on your depth perception, peripheral vision, and color vision.
  • Hear and speak.
  • Tolerate exposure to heat, cold, humidity, noise, vibrations, and odors
  • Remember, concentrate, interact with others, and adapt to change.

Example: A factory machine operator is 36 years old (a younger individual), has a high school education, and has done medium exertion level unskilled factory work since finishing high school. He suffers from a heart condition that limits him to sedentary work. But he also has a permanent injury to one hand that limits him to work that does not require good use of both hands. He is probably disabled, although he would not be disabled under the grids if not for the hand injury.

A Van Nuys disability lawyer can help

Proving that you cannot adapt to new jobs because of your exertional and non-exertional limitations is one important way that a successful Van Nuys disability lawyer helps claimants obtain Social Security disability benefits. If you are not already represented by a disability lawyer, and you would like an expert evaluation, please briefly describe your claim using the form to the right. Or you may contact me at:

The Law Office of Patricia L. McCabe
Van Nuys disability lawyer
Representing disabled individuals throughout Southern California

Contact me

7100 Hayvenhurst Avenue
Suite 314
Van Nuys, California 91406-3804