Vocational factors consist of your age, your work history, your work skills, and your educational background. Vocational factors come into play when you have applied for Social Security Disability benefits but you do not have a medical or mental condition that matches the requirements for a medical listing in Social Security’s blue book or impairment listing manual. For example, you may not have had the required number of hospitalizations or your blocked artery may not meet the percentage set forth in the blue book, but it is still obvious that you are disabled by your condition. Although your condition may not be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits under those listings, your application can still be approved if the examiner finds that you have a severe disability that prevents you from working. In this case, other factors, including vocational factors, are considered to determine if you are able to perform substantial gainful activity in the workplace. If you are unable to do so, your application for Social Security Disability benefits will be approved as a medical vocational allowance.
Medical factors refer to how your medical condition limits you, such as being unable to walk, unable to hear or unable to tolerate environmental toxins. Vocational factors include your age, work history, work skills, and education. Taken together, medical and vocational factors are evaluated to see how your medical condition impacts your ability to continue to do the work you have always done, or your ability to learn a new type of work.
Vocational factors often coincide with your ability to find a job, especially when combined with your medical condition. For example, if you have been a heavy equipment operator all your working life and are aged 50 or older and have been disabled because of muscle weakness and poor eyesight, it would be reasonable to expect that you would have extreme difficulty in being able to do other work. On the other hand, when evaluating a 35 year old college graduate who has only lost the use of his or her legs, Social Security would be quick to point out the possibility of working at a seated office job.
After examining both medical and vocational factors, if Social Security finds that you cannot be retrained or employed in a competitive work force and the SSA finds that you are unable to work at any other suitable employment, you could be eligible for Social Security disability benefits or SSI disability benefits in the form of a medical-vocational allowance.