Tom Margenau | Social Security and you: seniors with disabilities | lifestyles – Community News
Social Security

Tom Margenau | Social Security and you: seniors with disabilities | lifestyles

Baby boomers (like me) don’t just get old. Some of us also become vulnerable.

I’m probably a pretty good example. After a life of essentially good health, I’ve recently dealt with problems as serious as blood clots and as minor as a bum’s knee and arthritis.

And judging by my emails, I’m not alone. Many older people ask me about getting disability benefits from Social Security. I will give some tips to do that in a minute. But first, here are some ground rules.

If you are past full retirement age, forget it. Once you reach that age, you will no longer have to pay disability benefits. Or to put it another way, the retirement benefit you receive will pay the same rate as any disability benefits you may owe.

If you are under the age of 62 and have a disability, you should definitely apply for a disability from Social Security. If you are older than 62 and do not yet have social security, you must apply for pension and disability benefits at the same time. The Social Security Administration can immediately start with your pension benefits. If your disability application is finally approved, they will switch you to the higher disability rate.

But if you’re between age 62 and your full retirement age and already receiving Social Security retirement benefits, you may or may not qualify for disability benefits. Or to be more precise, the closer you are to full retirement age, the smaller your disability increase will be — and you may decide it’s just not worth all the hassle.

That’s because your disability rate (normally equal to your full retirement age) should be reduced for each month you’ve already received a Social Security retirement check. And you will eventually reach a point where you simply gain very little by applying for Social Security disability.

Here’s a quick example of that.

Sam applied for a pension at the age of 62. His benefit was cut by about half of 1 percent for every month he was under full retirement age. He gets 75 percent of his FRA rate. At the age of 65 he had a heart attack. If he applies for disability benefits and if his claim is approved, his normal disability rate, again equal to his FRA benefit, must be reduced by about half of 1 percent for each month he has already received retirement benefits. By age 65, he has received 36 retirement checks, so his disability rate should be reduced by about 18 percent. So instead of 100 percent disability, he would get about 82 percent. Sam would have to decide if it’s worth applying for a disability just to get bumped from his current 75 percent rate to 82 percent.

I’ve used the phrase “all the hassle” twice already. Let me tell you the hassle by giving you a quick overview of the disability insurance application process.

First you fill out a stack of papers. The first is a form asking you to describe your disability and how it prevents you from working. That last point is key. You will not receive disability benefits just because you have a physical or mental disability. You receive disability benefit because you have a physical or mental disability that prevents you from working. So you should describe in detail how your disability prevents you from doing your job.

In that same form, you will also be asked to list your medical providers. The government cannot make a decision on your case without having the evidence to support your claim. So be sure to include the names, addresses, phone numbers, and other contact details of any doctor, hospital, clinic, or other medical professional from whom you have received treatment.

The Social Security Administration outsources disability decisions to an agency in each state that is staffed with physicians and other medically trained personnel. They are the people who decide whether you meet the legal definition of “disability” for social security purposes. In a nutshell, the rules say that your disability must be one that prevents you from doing any kind of work for which you are suitable and is expected to last at least 12 months.

There’s a pretty good chance you’ll be asked to see a Social Security doctor for additional evaluation. Make sure you don’t miss that appointment.

Your disability application usually takes about three months to process. If it’s approved, you’ll get disability checks six months after they say your disability has started. (That six-month waiting period is built into the law.)

If your claim is denied, you will need to decide whether it is worth appealing against that decision. If you decide to do so, the first appeal is usually just a review of your case by the government agency that made the initial decision. If your claim is again denied, you can request a hearing before a Social Security judge. Due to backlogs, setting up those hearings could take about a year.

By the way, the “word on the street” is that all disability applications are rejected the first time and it will take a year or more to make a final decision. That’s just not true. About 35 percent of all disability claims are approved the first time in that three-month period I mentioned earlier. Another 15 percent is approved after the first appeal. Only those claims that end up in the backlog of the examining magistrate take a long time to process.

Do you need a lawyer to handle your disability claim? Quick answer: not right away. You certainly don’t need legal help to file a disability claim or to file an initial assessment if the claim is denied. But if you find yourself on your way to a hearing before an SSA judge, many people feel more comfortable having an attorney present to represent them. Keep in mind that they usually take about 25 percent of any delinquent benefits you receive if they win the case for you.

Also let me make a brief point about disability benefits supplements. So many people confuse the SSI program with Social Security benefits. They are two completely different government programs. SSI is a wellness program. Only the very poorest are eligible for SSI benefits. My guess is that almost everyone reading this column is not eligible for SSI benefits. But if you’re disabled and meet the eligibility criteria explained in this column, there’s a good chance you’ll qualify for Social Security disability benefits.

If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has a book with all the answers. It’s called ‘Social Security – Simple and Smart’. You can find the book at Or search for it on Amazon or other bookstores.