Spotlight On Elderlaw
Commentary By Nancy J. Brady, RN, Esq.
And Linda Faith Marshak, Esq.
The Social Security program, in addition to providing retirement benefits, provides benefits for disabled persons, provided certain criteria are met. The definition used by Social Security is different than the definition used by other programs. Social Security will pay benefits only for individuals with a total, long-term disability, which Social Security further defines as: being unable to do the type of work you did before, and inability to adjust to another type of work because of the disability.
The disability must last, or be expected to last at least one year, or result in death. In addition to the disability requirement, you must have worked recently enough and long enough (under Social Security) to qualify for disability benefits. Generally, you need 40 "credits," (20 of which were during the last ten years) and ending with the year you became disabled. You earn one credit for each $1000 of wages or self-employment income, up to four credits a year. Younger people may be able to qualify with fewer credits.
Social Security determines an individual's eligibility for disability based on the following five basic questions:
1. "Are you working?" If you have worked during the past year with earnings averaging more than $900 per month, you will most likely be ineligible.
2. "Is your condition severe?" Your condition must be so severe as to interfere with basic work activities.
3. "Is your condition found in the list of disabling conditions?" Social Security maintains a list of conditions that automatically qualify for disability. If your condition is not on the list, a determination must be made as to whether your particular condition is of equal severity to those on the list.
4. "Can you do the work you did previously?" If your condition does not affect your ability to do the work you did previously, your application will be denied.
5. "Can you do any other type of work?" If you cannot do the type of work you did before, but can do another type of work, your application will be denied.
Special rules apply to individuals with poor vision (cannot be corrected to better than 20/200 in the better eye, or visual field of 20 degrees or less with a corrective lens), or blindness. One of the special rules is the monthly earnings limit of $1500 for such individuals.
The application process for disability benefits can take several months or longer. If you are planning to apply, you should be prepared with the documentation that will be required. Social Security will require original documents, or certified copies. You will need: your social security number; proof of age; names and dosages of all medications; all medical records in your possession; laboratory and other test results; a detailed summary of your work history; most recent W-2 and income tax return; and a completed Adult Disability Report Form (SSA-3368), which can be completed online at the Social Security website (www. socialsecurity.gov).
Benefits will be paid by Social Security for the sixth full month after the date your disability began (as determined by Social Security), and are paid in the month following the month for which they were due. Benefits will continue to be paid to you unless your health improves to the point that you are no longer disabled, or you earn over $900 per month ($1500 for blind individuals).
A couple of points to keep in mind - disability benefits may be offset by other types of disability income; practically speaking, many applications are denied upon initial application, and require a hearing. If you choose to be represented by an attorney for your social security disability claim, attorneys fees are subject to court approval, not to exceed 25 percent of past due benefits, up to a maximum of about $5300.