An individual is eligible for Social Security Disability benefits when they are found “disabled” according to the definition of the Social Security regulations. Generally, a five-step sequential evaluation process is used to determine whether an individual is disabled pursuant to the guidelines. However, there are three very specific medical-vocational exceptions which allows an individual to avoid the five-step evaluation. Social Security Program Operations Manual System (POMS) specifically explains that these three special medical-vocational profiles essentially include specific combinations of vocational factors of age, education, and work experience that are so unfavorable that an individual who meets one of them will be deemed to be unable to adjust to other work and therefore will be found disabled at step 5 of the sequential evaluation process (POMS DI 25010.001). The three exceptions include: 1) Arduous Unskilled Work; 2) No Work Experience; and 3) Lifetime Commitment.
This blog post will focus on the first exception of Arduous Unskilled Work. To be found disabled under this exception the individual must meet all of the following criteria: 1) the individual must not be working or working under substantial gainful activity level; 2) the individual must have a history of 35 years or more of arduous unskilled work; 3) the individual can no longer perform their past arduous work because of a severe impairment or impairments; and 4) the individual has no more than a marginal education. Arduous work is defined as very physical work requiring a high level of strength or endurance. This definition can be construed to fit several jobs including jobs which a high physical demand. However, marginal education is defined much less broadly. Marginal education is defined as formal schooling completed at the sixth-grade level or less (POMS DI 25001.001). Overall, the Arduous Unskilled Work exception gives some grace to those individuals who have a lengthy and physical work history with very little education.