2005-06-24 / Columnists

Social Security And You

Questions and Answers
By James Glasser, Manager, Far Rockaway Social Security Center


James Glasser
James Glasser MEDICARE PRESCRIPTION DRUG PLAN

Question: My wife and I have just received an application in the mail for extra help in paying for Medicare prescription drugs. I am unsure if we would be eligible for this program. Is there an easy way to determine if we might qualify before we complete and mail the application?

Answer: Yes. Social Security has created a “Qualifier Tool” on its website at www.socialsecurity.gov.

Simply by entering information about your income and things that you own, the qualifier tool tells you whether you probably qualify or probably do not qualify for extra help with prescription drug costs. Or you can call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) and request a copy of the work sheet, “What You Need To Complete The Application For Help With Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Costs.”

RETIREMENT

Question: I worked as a teaching assistant for a couple of years in the 1970s, and then quit to raise a family. I am now working again but plan to quit work when my husband retires. I will only have about 18 years of total work under Social Security. Is there a minimum Social Security retirement benefit?

Answer: There is no minimum monthly Social Security benefit. Your benefit is calculated based on your highest 35 years of earnings, and in years when no earnings are reported, zeros are added in. However, you should know that a spouse is entitled to up to one-half of the retired worker’s full benefit. If you are eligible for both your own retirement benefit and for benefits as a spouse, we always pay your own benefit first. If your benefit as a spouse is higher than your retirement benefit, you’ll receive a combination of benefits equaling the higher spouse’s benefit. For more information, visit Social Security’s website at www.socialsecurity.gov.

Question: I retired from the U.S. Army several years ago, after 23 years of service, and receive a military pension. How will my military retirement affect my Social Security benefits?

Answer: You can get both Social Security benefits and military retirement. Generally, there is no offset of Social Security benefits because of your military retirement. You will get your full Social Security benefits based on your earnings. More information may be found in our fact sheet called Military Service and Social Security, which is available on the Internet at: www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10017.html

SURVIVORS

Question: My three children receive monthly survivors benefits from Social Security. But my oldest son will turn 18 on July 5, 2005. Will his last payment be in June or July?

Answer: Your son’s benefits stop the month he becomes age 18 or the month he becomes 19 if he is still attending elementary or secondary school full time. His last payment will be for the month of June but he will receive his last payment in July. You will be notified by mail before the last payment.

DISABILITY

Question: I know that when you get disability benefits there’s a medical review every so often. How often is that?

Answer: The timetable used to conduct medical reviews depends on several factors, including how severe the condition is and what the likelihood is that it will improve. The letter that Social Security sent you when you were approved for disability benefits tells you when to expect your first medical review. Generally, if improvement was expected, the first review is probably within six to 18 months. If improvement was considered possible, then your case will be reviewed every three years. If improvement is not anticipated, your case will be reviewed every five to seven years.

SUPPLEMENTAL SECURITY INCOME (SSI)

Question: I get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) because of a disability and know that I’m supposed to report changes in my living and working arrangements. I am now in the process of divorcing and finding a new place to live. Also, I hope to try going to work again before the end of the year. Can I wait and report all of these changes at one time?

Answer: No, you need to report any change within 10 days after the month that it happens. Not reporting changes in a timely manner could result in not getting paid all the money you are due. It can also result in you getting more than you are due, in which case you will have to pay the money back. You can report your changes by calling Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or by visiting your local Social Security office. For more information on what to report, visit www.social secu rity. gov.

Question: My aunt receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and is, I think, beginning to show signs of Alzheimer’s disease. I’m also worried that she’s becoming unable to manage her benefit payments. Can anything be done to help her?

Answer: If a person is unable to manage his or her own funds, we can arrange to send the SSI payments to a “representative payee.” This can be a relative or someone else who agrees to manage and use the money for the well-being of the person getting benefits. For more information, see the publication, A Guide For Representative Payees. You can get a copy online at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10076.html, or by calling Social Security at

1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).

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