How Transferable Skills Affect Your Ability To Claim Disability Benefits

To qualify for Social Security disability benefits, an applicant must prove that they have a medical condition (injury, illness, impairment, etc) that prevents that from working on a full-time basis. In evaluating your application, the SSA must determine if you can return to your previous position or if reasonable suitable alternative employment is available. 

Transferable Skills and Social Security Disability: Explained

If you have transferable skills, it increases the amount of positions that the SSA will deem “suitable” for alternative employment. Workers who have transferable skills are more likely to be able to find a less strenuous alternative position. As such, their disability claim is actually more likely to be denied. Here are three specific things to know about the medical vocational guidelines from the SSA

  1. Four Exertional Categories: Based on long-standing ‘grids’, the SSA classifies positions into four broad exertional categories: heavy work, medium work, light-duty work, and sedentary work. In reviewing the medical documentation associated with a disability claim, the agency will determine whether an applicant can perform work in any of these categories. 
  2. Transferable Skills Affect Alternative Employment: The SSA may determine that an applicant can perform sedentary work. Whether any sedentary positions are reasonably available will depend on a worker’s job skills. An employee who spent three decades working at a strenuous position in a warehouse may not have the “transferable skills” to find sedentary work. As a consequence, this employee’s SSDI application may be approved. 
  3. Age Matters: Even if an employee has transferable skills, they may require some level of vocational retraining to find a new position. Federal rules and regulations mandate that the SSA must take age into consideration. The older an applicant is, the less likely that any amount of vocational retraining is appropriate. In contrast, younger applicants are frequently deemed fit for retraining.  

The Bottom Line: Transferable skills will have a significant impact on your ability to obtain SSDI or SSI benefits. That being said, the SSA may try to “overfit” or “overstate” the transferability of an applicant’s job skills. If you have concerns about transferable skills or you believe that your application was improperly denied, an experienced Social Security disability attorney can help.