Social Security Benefits FAQ
There are two ways you can get a question about Social Security Disability answered:
- Scroll down this page to find all the questions I thought were important, and my answers to them.
- If you live in North or South Carolina, we will be glad to answer your question in person. Call us directly at 1-800-775-3985. Or, click here to e-mail us your question about Social Security Disability if you live in NC or SC.
Who is answering these questions, anyway? I am Paul McChesney; I am an attorney who has been handling Social Security Disability claims for disabled people for about 25 years. For more detail about who I am, or if you have a question about who we are, please click here.
Questions About Benefits For People Who Are Disabled
There are so many different programs. Which one should I apply for?
How serious does my condition have to be for me to get Social Security Disability or SSI?
SSI is short for supplemental security income. It is available to those who are disabled and have little income or resources.
To qualify for SSI benefits, you must meet the same medical requirements as for Social Security Disability. Both programs use the same standards to determine if you have a disability. However, SSI is not dependent upon your work record. Instead, you must meet certain conditions, such as having limited income, and few resources. In general, a single person can own $2,000 worth of items other than their home and the lot it is on. A couple is allowed $3,000 worth of goods. However, many things don’t count toward your SSI limit: your furniture, personal property and car may not count, depending on how much they’re worth. However, stocks, bonds, and all bank accounts do figure in to the limit. If you receive cash, groceries, free rent or other gifts, these can also affect your eligibility for SSI benefits. To find out more about what’s allowed, and if you might qualify for SSI, contact the Social Security office at 1-800-772-1213.
If you have difficulty with a disability claim, and live in North or South Carolina, please call us toll free at 1-800-775-3985 or click here to e-mail us.
Can a widow or widower get benefits off of the spouse’s record?
Can I get benefits if I have never been employed?
If you’re married, you may be eligible for Social Security benefits through your spouse. You might be entitled to benefits when your spouse retires, if you are of retirement age, or when your spouse dies, if you are 60, or if you are over 50 and disabled.
You can also receive benefits if you are caring for a child who is under 16 or disabled, if that child is also entitled to benefits.
If you have been disabled since before you were 22, and your parents are drawing benefits for any reason, you might be eligible under your parent’s record as a disabled adult child. For more information, contact the administration’s toll free number at 1-800-772-1213. If you live in North or South Carolina, you may call us at 1-800-775-3985 or click here to e-mail us.
What benefits are available to people on dialysis or with a kidney transplant?
Are there special rules for disability based on blindness?
On the one hand, your doctor and the Administration will probably agree on the definition of “legal blindness,” and if you meet that definition, you will probably get benefits on your own. On the other hand, there are a lot of eye conditions that do not meet this test but are nevertheless disabling. For those impairments, an attorney might be needed.
What kind of disability benefits can children get?
And, to get SSI benefits, the child’s family must not have too much income or resources.
As is mentioned elsewhere, a child under 18 may receive Social Security dependent’s benefits. The child must be a dependent of a parent who is receiving retirement or disability, or a parent who has died. In this case, the children themselves do not have to be disabled to get benefits.
However, if a child of a disabled or retired person is also disabled, that child may get benefits even as an adult, if that child can show that he was disabled continuously from before his 22nd birthday.
Benefits Payable to Family Members Based on the Record of Someone Who is Disabled, Deceased or Retired
For some of these benefits, the family member has to be disabled; for some, he or she does not.
If I get a check, will other members of my family get one, too?
Can my family get benefits if my spouse dies?
You might also be able to get benefits off of your spouse’s record if: a) You are over 60; b) You are over 50 and become disabled within 7 years of your spouse’s death; or c) if you have a low income and have children under 16 in your care.
The earlier you take benefits, the lower the amount you will receive. Survivor’s payments run from about 71 percent of the deceased spouse’s benefit, if taken at age 60, up to 100 percent, if not drawn till you are 65. For a disabled widow or widower between 50 and 59, your check would be 71 percent of the deceased partner’s benefit amount.
If you are eligible for retirement benefits on your own work record, and that of your deceased spouse, you should consider carefully which record to draw on, and when. You may choose to draw reduced survivor’s benefits, then get full retirement at 65. Or, you could take early retirement, then file for full survivor’s benefits at age 65. A Social Security representative can help you decide which option would be best for you; call their office at 1-800-772-1213.
Remarriage can affect your eligibility for spouse’s benefits in complex ways. If you are thinking of getting remarried and are concerned about this, you should be very cautious, and perhaps sit down and talk to an attorney before risking permanent loss of these benefits, which can happen in some, but not all, circumstances. Sometimes waiting a few months can preserve benefits. Do not trust the Administration’s answers on this question.
Can a divorced spouse draw on his or her ex-spouse’s record?
If you are divorced, you may be eligible for retirement benefits based on your ex-spouse’s Social Security record, if he or she gets Social Security or is deceased. However, you will need to meet certain conditions: For retirement benefit where your spouse survives, your marriage must have lasted ten years or more; you must usually be currently unmarried; and you must be at least age 62 or older. If your spouse is deceased, the requirements vary. In that case, you can start collecting benefits at age 60, or at 50 if you become disabled. You may also be able to get benefits on his or her record, even if you were married less than ten years, if you are now unmarried; or, if you are caring for your deceased spouse’s child, who is under 16 or disabled, and is also your natural or adopted child. Some people choose to receive Social Security benefits on their ex-spouse’s record, if those benefits are higher than their own. To find out if you qualify, and what the amount might be, visit the nearest Social Security office. Or, call their toll-free number, at 1-800-772-1213.
Can I file a claim based upon my spouse’s record?
Social Security benefits for children
Supplemental security benefits are paid to disabled children younger than eighteen whose income is limited or come from homes with low income and resources.
Social Security dependent’s benefits are paid to children under eighteen on the record of a parent who is deceased, collecting retirement benefits, or collecting disability benefits. The age of qualification for benefits extends to nineteen if the child is if he or she is a full time student in elementary or high school.
Social Security dependent’s benefits are also available for adults who have been disabled since childhood. To receive benefits, the adult child must be the son or daughter of someone who is getting Social Security retirement or disability benefits, or of someone who has died, and the child’s disability must have started before age twenty-two. For more information call the Administration at 1-800-772-1213.
Child’s benefits are simple if you and the child’s mother were married and always lived together. If not, qualifying for a child’s check can be complicated, and eligibility can be overlooked.
To qualify, the person must be 1) a child; 2) your child, and 3) dependant on you when you become disabled, retire, or die.
The person is “a child” if under 18, if under 19 and going full time to high school or something like it, or if disabled, no matter how old, if the disability began before the child was 22.
The person is “your child” if you are the actual parent, stepparent, or adoptive parent. Any adoption must take place before you become disabled, die, or retire, with two exceptions: If the child was your dependant grandchild before you became disabled, or in states which recognize it, if the child was equitably adopted by you before you became disabled. In those cases you may adopt after you become disabled or retire, or your spouse may adopt after you die, any the child can get benefits.
The person is dependant on you if you contributed a sufficient amount to his or her support before your disability. A father can contribute before birth by supporting the mother. If you are under a court order to pay support, or if you are married to the mother and living with her before you become disabled, retire, or die, you do not have to show actual dependancy.
A common issue is whether you are actutally the father. If you are alive, this can be proved by blood test. If you die, and you have enough living relatives, this can sometimes be proved by blood test.
If the custodial parent of your child has a low income, he or she might also get a small check until that child becomes 16.
To get a more specific idea of what your family’s checks might be, call the Administration at 1-800 772 1213 and ask them to send you an earnings a and benefits statement. You’ll get a report back in one to two months.
You probably will not need a lawyer to get benefits if you and his other parent are married and you are all living together. In any of the other situations set out above, it is common for the Administration to deny meritorious claims. In that case you will almost certainly need a lawyer. If you live in the Carolinas, please feel free to call us at 1-800-775-3985 or click here to e-mail us.
Can children’s benefits continue beyond age 18?
If the child is a full-time elementary or high school student, he or she may continue to receive benefits until age 19.
If the child is disabled, and his income and resources are low enough, he or she might be eligible for SSI. Once a child turns 18, his parent’s resources and income are not counted against him or her, so it often happens that this option becomes available for the first time at age 18.
If the child is disabled, he or she might also continue to get benefits under his or her parent’s record. To receive benefits, the adult child must be the son or daughter of someone who is getting Social Security retirement or disability benefits, or of someone who has died, and the child’s disability must have started before age twenty-two.
For more information call the Administration at 1-800-772-1213.
What is the Process That I Would Go Through if I File for Disability, and What Should I Be Doing to Win My Case?
Should I talk to an attorney before I file, or while I am still working?
How do I apply for disability benefits?
The claims process for disability usually takes longer than for other Social Security benefits. So the sooner you apply, the better. Here are some ways to speed up the process. Be sure you have the Social Security number and proof of age for each person who is applying. This includes your spouse and children, if they are also filing for benefits. You’ll need the names, addresses and phone numbers of your doctors, hospitals and other health care providers, plus the dates of treatment. List the names of all medications you are taking. Obtain copies of medical records from your doctors, therapists and caseworkers, as well as lab or test results. You’ll need to give a summary of where you worked in the last 15 years, and what type of job you did. Take a copy of your w-2 form, or your federal tax return, if you’re self-employed. The Social Security office will help you fill out all the necessary forms. They can also help you get the information you need, to process your claim.
If you need help with a disability application and live in North or South Carolina, please call us at 1-800-775-3985 or click here to e-mail us.
Should I appeal an initial denial of benefits?
If you are denied again, you can ask for a hearing before an administrative law judge at the office of hearings and appeals. It takes about 7 months more to get to a hearing in South Carolina right now. This is where most claimants hope to win their case. Because of the difficulties you face if you lose at this point, it is crucial that you present the best case you possibly can.
If you lose before the administrative law judge, you are in a lot of trouble. The next appeal step is to the Appeals Council in Washington. Presently this is taking more than a year in most cases. The overall success statistics are low; and many firms do not handle appeals beyond the hearing level. However, with aggressive case development to specifically refute the findings of the judge, a case can be won at this level. It is about impossible to win at this level without an attorney.
If you lose at the Appeals Council level you can file a civil action in a federal district court. This absolutely requires an attorney.
One thing you should be careful about is a rule called “res judicata.” This is a complicated subject, but the bottom line is that once you go a certain distance in the process and lose – generally to the hearing – if you do not appeal, it becomes more difficult, and sometimes impossible, to win a claim later. The moral is that you should be careful about filing a claim unless you are serious about it. This is a somewhat more serious problem in the Fourth Judicial Circuit – the Carolinas, the Virginias, and Maryland – than it is in some other areas. On the other hand, do not wait to file a claim if you are truly disabled. You can lose eligibility if you wait too long. If you need help with an application and live in South or North Carolina, please call us at 1-800-775-3985 or click here to e-mail.
Questions Concerning the Amount of Benefits
How much Social Security benefits can you get?
If I am getting a worker’s compensation check, will that affect my Social Security Disability benefit amount?
If you will be receiving more than one type of disability payment, an attorney can often make a stunning reduction in the amount of the offset. The difference can often amount to the entire value of a worker’s compensation settlement. You cannot do this on your own. Even if you are generally anti-attorney, which even I am on odd days, you should never settle a worker’s compensation case without having an attorney look into this offset problem. If you live in North or South Carolina, contact us at 1-800-775-3985 or click here to e-mail us.
How Can I Get Enough Earnings To Qualify For Benefits Under The Social Security Programs?
How much work must I do to receive social security disability benefits?
If the Administration claims you have not worked enough, call again and claim an earlier onset date. Keep getting earlier, and they might give in. Or, you might struggle to work a year or two and become eligible. It doesn’t take much work to do this, and often a person who is disabled can suffer and work a little and make it. Order your earnings record from the Administration by calling 1-800-772-1213. Once you get it, take it to an attorney and ask him what you need to do. The Administration cannot be trusted to answer this question correctly, and you should not just blindly start working without knowing how much you need to make or how many years it will take. In North and South Carolina, call us at 1-800-775-3985 or click here to e-mail us.
Can I qualify for Social Security Disability or retirement by working for myself?
If Social Security has told you that you have not worked enough to qualify for Social Security disability, get your earnings record by filling out a request at your local office or by ordering one on this website: PEBES Online Request. Take that document to an attorney and ask him how much you must earn, over what period of time, to qualify.
One serious mistake people make is not reporting earnings from part time work once they start having difficulty with full time work. You need to report every dollar you can, to maintain your eligibility. In North and South Carolina, call us for help with this. 1-800-775-3985 or click here to e-mail us.
How can household workers get earnings credits to qualify for benefits?
If I run a business with my spouse, can I get credit for the work I do?
Questions About Retirement Benefits
Should I retire at age 62 or age 65?
If I am 62 and can no longer work, should I file for disability, or retirement?
There are a few exceptions. For example, disability is reduced by worker’s compensation benefits, but retirement is not. In that case, sometimes you should file for both so you will get early medicare. Then waive the disability check and take retirement instead, so that your check will not be reduced by the worker’s compensation. But don’t try any of that fancy stuff without a lawyer, and a good one, too. In North and South Carolina, call us at 1-800-775-3985 or click here to e-mail us.
Suggestions For People Drawing Disability Benefits
If I am drawing benefits, what should I do right now to protect my future income?
If you think you can return to work permanently, one of the best things you can do to protect yourself is to go back to work. There are a number of trial work period and other work incentives that can help you succeed in such an effort.
Another thing to consider is education. If you can get into a high demand field, employers will often overlook impairments and hire you. You should be careful to direct your efforts to fields that would work for you even if your impairment worsened. For example, if you have rheumatoid arthritis you should not go into a field that requires fine manipulation of objects, since, as this condition worsens, your hands often lose their ability to do this.
If you can get yourself into a course of training sponsored by Vocational Rehabilitation, the Administration is not supposed to terminate your benefits if the course of study will make you less likely to return to the disability rolls in the future. This rule might protect you until you finish your course of study.
You should maintain a relationship with a doctor or doctors who are prepared to document your continuing disability; and you should make sure that your doctors know what problems you are having.
Once I start to draw SSI or social security disability, how can I get back into the work force?
When the trial period is over, if you are making substantial money, (usually $500 or more per month), your benefits will end in three more months. However, you are still protected for an additional three years, should your earnings fall below $500. This is called the extended period of eligibility. It means you are eligible to receive your full disability benefit, in any month where you make less than $500. This is a difficult program to make work properly; generally, once your Social Security Disability check is stopped, it is about as hard to get it started back as it was to get it started in the first place.
For SSI: If you try to work, you must report your income to the Administration. This will reduce your check, and, if you make enough, eliminate it. If you stop working within a year, the Administration is supposed to start your check back without much argument. This program works better than the Social Security Disability program; usually the check starts back pretty well in an SSI claim.
If I am drawing social security disability, and try to go back to work, will my I lose my Medicare?
But if you try to go back to work yourself, you might be eligible for continuation of Medicare as a return to work incentive. During your trial work period, you can still receive social security disability payments, in addition to your paycheck. Your disability benefits will eventually stop. However, Medicare coverage if supposed to continue for at least 39 months after the trial work period ends. After Medicare benefits run out, if you are still disabled, you have the option of purchasing the same coverage for a monthly premium. To find out more about Medicare continuation for the disabled, contact the social security office; the best way to do this is to call the toll free number at 1-800-772-1213. They can give you a publication called your Medicare handbook, as well as several leaflets concerning Medicare.
If I am drawing social security disability or SSI benefits, do I have to worry about them cutting off my check?
The people at the Social Security Administration will notify you when they are beginning a review. Your review may take place by mail, phone, or in person, at the social security office.
What might make my disability benefits stop?
If I am drawing benefits and my case is reviewed, what should I do?
If you get a notice that your benefits are being terminated, YOU GENERALLY HAVE ONLY 10 DAYS TO APPEAL IF YOU WANT YOUR BENEFITS TO CONTINUE. If you want this, you should go down to the social security local office THAT DAY OR THE NEXT DAY and tell them you want your cash and health insurance benefits continued. It is usually a poor idea to go by an attorney’s office first, because time is so short.
If you do ask for benefits to continue during your appeal, there is a chance that you will have to pay the benefits back; on the other hand you might be able to get a waiver. Whether to do this is a tricky question that requires a lot of thought; the best answer varies from case to case.
One problem in termination cases is that, if benefits continue, there are generally no back benefits out of which you can pay an attorney. For that reason, most attorneys ask for some money down and a small monthly payment to handle this sort of case. In some areas, legal aid will take these cases for no fee. It is smart to try to save up money in case you are ever turned down; this is also very difficult in light of the amount of most checks.
If I am drawing SSI, should I tell the administration if my family’s income or resources change?
How Can I Get Help With My Health Care Needs?
What benefits come with Medicare?
Who can get medicare? Can I get it if I am disabled?
You get Medicare after receiving the social security disability benefits you were due for two years.
Most people with permanent kidney failure can get Medicare.
Here’s how to sign up. If you’re already receiving social security retirement benefits, the social security office will contact you a few months before you turn 65, and send you an application. If you aren’t already drawing social security or railroad retirement, you should contact the social security office. It’s best to start about three months before your 65th birthday.
If you are receiving social security disability benefits, you should take the same steps, except that benefits start 2 years after the month for which you received your first payment of benefits.
You get part a Medicare, which pays toward hospital expenses, automatically. You will also have the option to enroll in part b Medicare, which helps pay doctor charges, for an additional monthly premium.
For more information about who can qualify, call the Administration’s toll-free number at 1-800-772-1213.
How can poor people on Medicare get help with their medical expenses?
How do I get health care if I have no money? (Medicaid and other sources of free care).
Many people without money qualify for Medicaid. There is a lot more to it, but in one sentence this means a certain number of free prescriptions a month, the number depending on what state you live in, and free care at some clinic and most hospitals. A few private doctors accept Medicaid, but there are many places where there are no such doctors. Sometimes, if you have a good relationship with a private doctor, he will accept Medicaid for you, though he will not for other patients. See How do I get Medicaid benefits? to find out how to get them.
Once the Administration has sent you Social Security Disability checks amounting to two years worth of benefits, you will get Medicare. Again, there is a lot more to it, but in one sentence this means no medicines, a private doctor, and hospitalization for which you have to pay a deductible. Health care providers get more money, which means that they are more happy to see you. This is good if you need the operation; bad if you don’t.
The problem with the above two programs is that you usually have to prove your disability to get them. This means that during the long delay while you are being turned down, they will be of no help.
There are a lot of different ways to get medications if you don’t have money. Some work well for some people, and if you have little money, you can almost certainly get some help.
If you already have a relationship with a doctor, he or she will sometimes keep treating you when the money runs out. There are some that get upset if you pay them nothing, but will treat you forever if you send them $5 a month and a note saying how much you love them. The more your doctor’s office looks like a modern hospital, and the less it looks like Marcus Welby’s, the less likely this is to happen.
All emergency rooms must treat you if you have a problem calling for emergency treatment, and that hospital is supposed to then admit you if that is necessary. However, you will find that the hospital’s definition of what is an emergency and what is necessary will vary depending on whether you have health insurance. And the hospital will send you an amazing bill. This can be a serious problem if you own your home or think you have a tax refund coming.
Disabled veterans can get care at veteran’s clinics and hospitals.
Many cities have a free clinic, where doctors volunteer their time, or else where medical students learn their skills. Many cities have nonprofit, reduced fee clinics. Call your local United Way, which usually has a list of such clinics. Persistence and patience often pay off here.
How do I get Medicaid benefits?
What is Social Security?
What social security means
Who can get social security benefits?
Full retirement benefits begin at age 65, though reduced retirement can be drawn as early as 62. Social security retirement benefits are available to anyone who has worked long enough and recently enough in a job for which they paid social security taxes. You may also qualify as the spouse of someone who worked.
Social security disability is available at any age, if you have worked enough and become disabled. In addition, if you are disabled, some of your family members may qualify for benefits as your dependents. For example, children under 18 and some disabled adult children may be eligible if their parent receives disability checks or has died. Widows and widowers can receive survivors benefits if they are caring for children under age 18, or if they are over 50 and disabled. Parents who are 62 or older when you die they may also qualify for payments.
If you are disabled, have not worked much, and you and your spouse have a low income, you might qualify for SSI benefits. For more details on who can get social security benefits, contact the social security toll free number at 1-800-772-1213. If you have difficulty with a disability claim, and live in Western North Carolina or Upstate South Carolina, please call us toll free at 1-800-775-3985 or click here to e-mail us.
What will happen to social security in the future?
A second problem has been that, as the Federal government has run deficits over the years, it has taken the money we have all paid in as Social Security taxes, which were supposed to go into a trust fund, and has spent this money for its current operating expenses, to build aircraft carriers and pay senator’s salaries. In exchange, the government has given the trust fund pieces of paper, called treasury notes, which amount to a promise to pay the trust fund back in the future. The only way to do this is with future taxes. There was briefly a budget surplus, and an opportunity to pay this money back, but that surplus is now gone, and unless it comes back, either reduced benefits, tighter eligibility rules, or increased taxes are eventually going to be necessary; many would say that each of these is necessary right now.
Another measure underway is the raising of the retirement age; it will gradually increase from 65 to 67. Some people have debated whether to raise this age still further. Others have suggested raising the minimum age of early retirement, which is currently 62. This step will make the disability programs more important, since some of the people forced to retire later will be unable to continue to work.
Private investment of part of the money you contribute is also a possibility. There are countries that have had a successful experience doing this; others worry that a general downturn in the economy, as has been experienced in all countries from time to time, will make this risky for all; and worry that a certain percentage of the population will invest poorly and become wards of the rest of us. A problem with private investment is the transition: right now, the bulk of money paid in in taxes this year is going directly to current beneficiaries. If any of that money is diverted to investment, then the money for current beneficiaries is going to have to come from some other source, or is going to have to be reduced.
The Administration is also trying to save money by reducing the number of people on Social Security Disability and SSI. It is trying to make it harder to get Social Security Disability and SSI; the standards for drawing childhood disability have been raised; and Congress at one time funded a program to review more frequently and intensely the cases of people drawing benefits. There are certainly people drawing disability benefits who should not be, at the same time that there are people who are disabled that cannot get benefits. Work needs to be done to make the system that more accurately and efficiently identify the disabled.
There are no easy answers and no painless solutions to these problems. They are soluble now with a little sacrifice from each of us. As time passes and we delay taking action, the problems get harder and harder to solve.