Answers to your questions about social security disability.

Social Security Disability Frequently Asked Questions

There are three ways you can get a question about Social Security Disability answered:

 •Frequently Asked Questions. Scroll down this page to find all the questions I thought were important, an 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.

 •If you live in any state, please also consider visiting our Forum. Here, we have answered questions the you, the disabled, thought were important. The Forum is a little less organized, but more questions are discussed, and if you don't find your answer, you can ask a question and get an answer. Please click here to visit our Social Security Disability Forum.

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.

The questions start here. If you click on a question, the cursor will jump down to the answer. To get back to the questions, go to the top of the page or click the back button on your browser.

QUESTIONS ABOUT BENEFITS FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE DISABLED
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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.  Click on a question to get an answer.

WHAT IS THE PROCESS THAT I WOULD GO THROUGH IF I FILE FOR DISABILITY, AND WHAT SHOULD I BE DOING TO WIN MY CASE?
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QUESTIONS CONCERNING THE AMOUNT OF BENEFITS
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SOCIAL SECURITY PROGRAMS: UNDER THEM, HOW CAN I GET ENOUGH EARNINGS TO QUALIFY FOR BENEFITS?
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QUESTIONS ABOUT RETIREMENT BENEFITS
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SUGGESTIONS FOR PEOPLE DRAWING DISABILITY BENEFITS
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HOW CAN I GET HELP WITH MY HEALTH CARE NEEDS?
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SOCIAL SECURITY: WHAT IS IT?
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If your question is not answered, or its answer is not clear, or its answer seems to be inaccurate, please to let me know by e-mail and I will eventually give you the best answer I can give.


QUESTIONS ABOUT BENEFITS FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE DISABLED

There are so many different programs. Which one should I apply for?

Don't worry too much about this. If you cannot work, or find yourself hanging on at work by your fingernails, call the Administration at 1-800-772-1213 and ask what benefits might be available for you. Some of those operators are good at helping you in the obvious cases. If they cannot identify any help for you, call an attorney who specializes in this area. In North and South Carolina and, you may call us at 1-800-775-3985 or click here to e-mail us. If you are working, but are hanging on by your fingernails, the Administration will claim that you cannot file. That is not always true, but in that case you will need a good attorney. In this situation, you should talk to an attorney and try to plan your future. The last thing you want to do is quit, file, and wait a year or so for your first check.

How serious does my condition have to be for me to get Social Security Disability or SSI?

The Social Security Administration defines disability as any physical or mental problem that prevents you from working; the condition must be expected to last at least a year, or result in death. Unlike some programs, Social Security does not pay for partial or short-term disability. It is intended to provide income for you and your family when you are unable to do any type of work for which your are suited. If you've worked under Social Security in the past, and are now disabled, you or your dependents may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits. If you win your claim, you will receive checks each month. Benefits will continue for as long as you are disabled and cannot resume work. A person can receive Social Security Disability at any age. If you are getting disability benefits, at age 65 they become retirement benefits, but the amount stays the same. If you are 62 or over and disabled, you should file for both disability and retirement.

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?

When a worker entitled to Social Security benefits dies, the surviving spouse, age 60 or older, may qualify for survivor benefits. A surviving spouse, age 50 or older, may qualify only if disabled. To be entitled to a widow's or widower's benefit as a disabled widow or widower, the law provides that you must have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. The impairments must be of a level of severity to prevent a person from doing any gainful activity. There are other benefits which may be available to the surviving spouse and dependent children. To get help with these types of benefits, contact the Administration at 1-800-772-1213. You might need an attorney's help with benefits, especially if they involve the issue of disability. If you live in North or South Carolina, you can call our firm at 1-800-775-3985 or click here to e-mail us.

Can I get benefits if I have never been employed?

Maybe. If you have little money and your spouse has a low income, you might be able to get SSI.

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?

When someone is on dialysis, and during the early years of a kidney transplant, he or she is considered disabled for Social Security Disability purposes, and will also get medicare. To find out more about benefits for people with kidney failure, contact the nearest Social Security office. Or, visit the health care financing administration website, at www.hcfa.gov. Benefits for these conditions are automatic, and the issues are clear. For those reasons, these people can usually get benefits without an attorney. Be aware that the Administration will eventually try to terminate benefits for a kidney transplant patient. This can be a problem if you do not have the work skills to pay for the expensive medicines needed to protect your kidney.

Are there special rules for disability based on blindness?

Social Security considers a person to be blind if your vision cannot be corrected to better than 20/200 in your strong eye, or if you have a visual field of 20 degrees or less, even with corrective lenses. Many rules regarding disability benefits are different for the blind. For example, when a blind person is between the ages of 55 and 65, a more lenient rule is used to determine their eligibility. The person must only show that they cannot do the same or similar work they did before age 55, or before they became blind, whichever is later. The usual rule says that a person must be unable to do any reasonable type of work. There are also special rules for blind workers. If you receive Social Security benefits while working, you will generally have a higher earnings limit than the $500 per month allowed for non-blind disabled workers. Check with Social Security for current figures. Also, certain work expenses like a seeing-eye dog can be deducted, when calculating your earnings limit. You need to work less to qualify if you are blind. To find out more about rules for the blind, contact the Social Security office; ask for their publication titled, "If You Are Blind - How We Can Help."

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?

Children may be eligible for supplemental security income, or SSI, disability benefits. However, the definition of disability is different for them. First, the child is required to have a physical or mental condition that can be medically proven, and which causes marked and severe functional limitations. As with adults, the condition must be expected to last at least 12 months or result in death. However, if a child is working at a job that is judged to be substantial work, he or she might not be considered disabled.

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?

For SSI: The answer is simple. No.

For Social Security Disability benefits and retirement benefits, if you receive a check, any dependant children might also receive a check, and your spouse, or divorced spouse might be entitled to a check. If you die, they also might receive one. If your Social Security Disability check is for around $400, they will get very little. The larger your check, the more theirs will be.

Can my family get benefits if my spouse dies?

When your spouse dies, if he or she has worked enough, his or her dependent children, sometimes including disabled adult children, may be eligible for monthly survivor's benefits from Social Security.

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?

Usually, yes.

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?

If you are married and have worked under Social Security, you may qualify for retirement benefits either on your own work record or your spouse's record. People who are eligible for benefits on more than one work record usually get the higher amount; you cannot draw on both. Reduced retirement benefits are available at age 62. Currently, those who wait till age 65 can receive full benefits; however, this age will increase in the future. Even if you've never been employed, you may still be eligible for spouse's benefits. In that case, you could receive benefits when your spouse retires, becomes disabled, or dies. Generally, the spouse's benefit is 50 percent of your husband or wife's total benefit if they are living, or a little less than 3/4ths of it if he or she is deceased. To find out if you qualify for Social Security benefits, and what the amount might be, visit the nearest Social Security office. Or, call their toll-free number, at 1-800-772-1213.

Social Security benefits for children

There are three ways a child might be eligible for benefits.

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?

There are several situations where benefits may continue beyond 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?

Well, I would. It's easy to file on your own; harder to win a claim. There are some bad consultative doctors, and sometimes an attorney can affect who you see. There are a lot of things you can do while you are still working, and hopefully have health insurance, to improve your chances of winning a claim later. You can afford to develop medical evidence while you are insured. While you are working in an erratic fashion, you can sometimes file and continue to keep working; this is difficult but not impossible. This can shorten the year or more wait until you get a hearing decision. Most attorneys charge nothing to talk about your situation in Social Security claims; we certainly don't. If you live in North or South Carolina, please call us at 1-800-775-3985 or click here to e-mail us.

How do I apply for disability benefits?

I would talk to an attorney before filing, but you can file yourself, too. As soon as you become disabled, and are working erratically or not working, you may apply for disability at any Social Security office. You may also apply by phone. The best way to start is to call 1-800-772-1213. Most people who are comfortable writing answers find that a telephone appointment is the easiest way to file. If you are not comfortable with a lot of writing, set an appointment to apply in person.

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.

What happens to all of that paper once I apply for disability benefits?

Once your application is submitted to the Social Security office, it is first reviewed there, to see if you meet the non disability requirements for benefits like income and resources, for SSI applicants, and sufficient earnings, for Social Security disability applicants. If you're a family member applying for benefits, they'll confirm your relationship to the worker. Next, your application is sent to the disability determination services, in South Carolina called the DDD; it is the Disability Determination Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.. Your case is there examined by a physician or psychologist and a disability evaluation specialist. They get some but usually not all of your medical evidence. Often they order a consultative examination from a doctor. This can sometimes be avoided if you get what they need yourself, or get an attorney to get it for you. Consultative examinations are occasionally helpful to your claim, sometimes harmless, and sometimes deadly. An attorney can help here. If you refuse to go, your claim will be denied. A high percentage of disabled claimants are denied at the initial level. If you are denied at this level you should probably appeal, and you should almost certainly talk to an attorney. There is something that they are looking for that you are not providing. This part of the process presently takes about 4 to 6 months in South Carolina. If you want help with the process 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?

Usually. If you're unhappy with the Social Security administration's response to a claim for benefits, the administrative review process could help you. All requests for review must be submitted in writing, and time limits may apply; you usually have 60 days to appeal at each step. First you should request that the initial determination be reconsidered. You can then submit new information and evidence for your claim. This will take another 4 to 6 months, and generally results in a second denial.

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 us.

QUESTIONS CONCERNING THE AMOUNT OF BENEFITS

How much Social Security benefits can you get?

Social Security Disability insurance is a program that workers pay for with the Social Security taxes that are deducted from their paycheck. Therefore, should you become disabled, you may qualify for these benefits, which are based on your work history. The higher your Social Security wages were, the more your monthly benefit check is likely to be. Recently, the average payment for a disabled worker was about $680 per month. This amount usually increases slightly each year; it may also vary, depending on your particular situation. If you are working while receiving benefits, or also draw another type of disability benefit, your Social Security check may be reduced. For an estimate of how much your disability benefits might be, call or visit any Social Security office. The easiest way to do this is to call 1-800-772-1213 They'll send you the forms you need to receive a personal earnings and benefit estimate statement.

If I am getting a worker's compensation check, will that affect my Social Security Disability benefit amount?

Some disabled persons may also be eligible for other types of benefits; when this happens, it can affect the amount of Social Security Disability benefits you receive. Some examples of other benefits include worker's compensation, black lung or disability payments from certain local, state, and federal government, military or civil service programs. In most cases, the total combined payments to you and your family from Social Security and any of these other programs cannot be more than 80 percent of your average salary before you were disabled.

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?

It takes a little more to qualify for disability than it does to qualify for retirement. To qualify for Social Security Disability benefits, you must have worked long enough and recently enough under the current laws. For each year you work, you can earn up to four credits, maximum. Each credit is based on a certain amount of money earned; the amount of earnings required for a credit usually increase each year, as general wage levels increase. So how many work credits will you need to qualify for disability benefits? That depends on the age at which you became disabled. The older you are, the more credits required. In most cases, you would need at least 20 credits earned in the last ten years. However, younger workers may qualify with fewer credits. For example, those disabled before age 24 need only six credits, earned in the three-year period before their disability starts. To get a chart showing the credits needed at various ages, contact the Social Security office. Ask for their publication, "Social Security Disability Benefits," or speak with a service representative. If the administration claims you do not have enough quarters, you should get an earnings record and see if anything is left out. If so, talk to an attorney immediately. You might only have a limited time to correct the record.

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?

Yes. If the Administration tells you that you do not have enough earnings to qualify for benefits, this can be an excellent way to pick up coverage. If you're self-employed, make a fairly modest amount of money, AND REMEMBER TO REPORT IT, you'll receive work credits each year, just like an employee. What's more, you'll also retain any credits from previous jobs. A self-employed person who has worked long enough and recently enough will qualify for retirement benefits, survivor's benefits, disability, and Medicare hospital insurance. However, your earnings must be reported on your federal income tax return, schedule SE. If you make less than $400, there are optional methods of reporting, that may allow you to receive Social Security credit. Ask the IRS for details. When you're self-employed, you must pay both the employer and employee share of Social Security tax, currently 15.3 percent of net profit. Even if you don't owe any income tax, you still need to file a return. It's important that Social Security have a complete and accurate record of your work history: your future benefit amounts will be based on this record.

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?

The Social Security administration defines household workers as anyone who is employed to work in or around someone's home. Some common examples would be babysitters, maids, butlers, cooks, laundry workers, gardeners, and drivers. If you're a household worker, it's important to understand that you, too, can earn credits under social security. But first, your employer must report your wages to the IRS, and deduct the necessary taxes. Make sure your employer sees your social security card, and that he or she withholds social security taxes from your earnings. Your employer must also pay a matching tax amount, and send the total tax to the IRS, along with a report of your wages. Remember, if the wages aren't reported, you won't earn social security credit for your work. That means you may not get enough credits to qualify for monthly benefits when you retire, or if you become disabled or die. Even if you do get benefits, they may be lower than they should be, if all your lifetime earnings have not been reported.

If I run a business with my spouse, can I get credit for the work I do?

If you run a business with your spouse, you need to take special steps to ensure that you receive social security credit for your work. Usually, when you both own and operate the business, and expect to share in the profits or losses, you may qualify for social security credits as a partner. You do not necessarily need to have a formal partnership agreement. However, you do need to file a separate self-employment return, called schedule SE. Always file this form for both spouses, showing that both of you had income, in addition to any joint income tax return you may file with your spouse. Otherwise, all the business earnings will be credited to your spouse's social security number. If your share of the earnings are not shown under your social security record, you may not receive proper credit.

QUESTIONS ABOUT RETIREMENT BENEFITS

Should I retire at age 62 or age 65?

Ordinarily, a person who has worked under social security is eligible for full retirement benefits starting at age 65. You may also have the option to draw retirement as early as age 62; however, if you do, your monthly payment will be permanently reduced. You'll need a certain number of work credits to qualify for retirement benefits; most people need at least 40 credits. Assuming you qualify, you can opt for early benefits either on your work record, or your spouse's. But your benefit will stay reduced, even if you first take benefits on your record, and then take spouse's benefits when your husband or wife retires. The decision of whether to take early retirement benefits depends on your particular situation. Here are some things to consider: Do you expect to have income from other sources? Will you draw retirement from your former employer? Do you have investments that may pay you interest? Most importantly, find out how much your benefit will be reduced, if taken early. The social security office can help you get an estimate of your benefit both ways: reduced versus full. For more information, call their toll-free number, at 1-800-772-1213. Or, visit their website, at www.ssa.gov.

If I am 62 and can no longer work, should I file for disability, or retirement?

Usually, both. The decision in the retirement claim will come faster. Disability will pay you more money; essentially the amount you would receive at age 65 under retirement; and you might get medicare earlier. . When you win your disability claim, they will catch up the difference between the two checks.

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?

There are a number of things you should do right now, before you are reviewed.

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?

For Social Security Disability: Whether you're a disabled person entering the work force for the first time, or trying to get back to work, social security provides a number of incentives to help you. One such incentive is called the trial work period. For a total of nine months, you are allowed to earn as much as you can, without affecting your disability benefits. Though the nine months do not have to be consecutive, they must fall within the same five year period. Any month in which you earn over $200 is counted as a trial work month. For those who are self-employed, a trial month is one with earnings over $200, or one in which you worked over 40 hours in your business. At the end of the trial work period, you should be careful not to accept more checks from the Administration, or you could get into serious trouble with an overpayment.

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?

If the Administration reviews your case and decided that you are able to work, and cuts off your benefits, Medicare will be ended unless you appeal and ask that it be continued.

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?

Yes, in most cases. If you are receiving social security or SSI disability benefits, your case will be reviewed every so often to see if you are still disabled. If you have a condition that is expected to improve, a review may take place as often as every six months. Otherwise, the more severe your condition, the longer the period between reviews. In the future the Administration is probably going to be more aggressive about terminating benefits than they have been in the past. People who are approaching 60 have less to worry about than people who are younger.

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?

In short, if you earn income, or if the Administration thinks you have gotten healthy enough to work.

If I am drawing benefits and my case is reviewed, what should I do?

If you get a notice that you are being reviewed, you might talk to your attorney and be sure that you are doing everything you should.

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?

Yes. SSI checks vary depending on the amount of family income and resources. You can wind up owing the government back a lot of money if you do not tell them of changes in your income and resources. You can ask for a waiver, but this does not always work.

HOW CAN I GET HELP WITH MY HEALTH CARE NEEDS?

What benefits come with Medicare?

Medicare is the nation's federal health insurance program. Through taxes deducted from your paycheck, you contribute to the Medicare program during your working years. Then, usually at age 65, you are eligible for coverage. Medicare is designed to provide basic assistance with health care costs; but it does not cover all medical expenses, nor the cost of long term care. Medicare has two parts: part A is hospital insurance. It helps pay for a hospital stay, skilled nursing facility, home health care, and hospice care. Everyone who has paid into Medicare while working can get part A, at no cost. Part B Medicare is medical insurance; to receive this, you must pay a monthly premium. However, you do not have to take part B; it's your option. The medical insurance portion covers doctor's fees, x-rays, ambulance services, and other items not covered by part A Medicare. To get specific costs for Medicare part B, such as premium amounts, deductibles, and co-insurance payments, contact the administration's toll free number at 1-800-772-1213. These figures change each year, and are published in their fact sheet, titled "social security update."

Who can get medicare? Can I get it if I am disabled?

Most people age 65 or older can get Medicare hospital insurance, also called "part A" Medicare. They may qualify for Medicare based on their own work record, or their spouse's. If you receive social security or railroad retirement benefits, you are automatically eligible for Medicare. You may qualify under other conditions, too: for example, if you are not getting social security or railroad retirement, but have worked long enough to be eligible for them. You may also be able to get Medicare if you would be entitled to social security benefits through your spouse or ex-spouse, and that person is at least 62. You may qualify for Medicare if you worked long term in a government job.

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?

Medicare has two programs designed to assist those with low income and limited resources. Both are run by the health care financing administration, along with your state agency that handles Medicaid. The first program is the qualified Medicare beneficiary, or QMB. If you are eligible for QMB, the state will pay your monthly Medicare premiums. What's more, you will not have to pay any Medicare deductibles or copayments. The other medical assistance program is the specified low income Medicare beneficiary, called SLMB for short. Under the SLMB program, your state pays only the monthly premium of your part b Medicare. The guidelines that determine who is eligible are different in each state. But generally, you may be able to receive QMB or SLMB if your income and the things you own fall below a certain limit. Not everything you own counts as a resource: your home and items like your car usually don't count. But only your state can decide if you qualify for assistance. To find out if you're eligible for QMB, or SLMB, contact your state or local Medicaid agency, social service office, or welfare office. You might ask for the booklet titled "Medicare: savings for qualified beneficiaries."

How do I get health care if I have no money? (Medicaid and other sources of free care).

This is difficult, and the type of care you will get is different from that a person with money will get, but if you work hard at it, you can often get equivalent or even superior care. These are some of the things to try:

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. To see our list of ways to get free or reduced cost medicine, please click here to go to our Free Medicine Page.

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?

Each state has some leeway in determining who is eligible for Medicaid; however, in order for the states to receive federal funds, there are certain groups that must be covered. For these people, Medicaid coverage is mandatory. They include recipients of aid to families with dependent children, or AFDC; infants born to Medicaid-eligible pregnant women; and children under age 6 and pregnant women with limited income. Furthermore, states are required to provide Medicaid coverage until age 19 to all children born after September 30th, 1983 in families with income at or below the poverty level. All people who qualify for SSI in South Carolina also qualify for Medicaid, though in some states, they must meet more restrictive conditions than required by SSI. There are other groups for whom the state has the option of providing Medicaid benefits. These include certain aged, blind or disabled adults with income below the poverty level, institutionalized persons with limited resources, and other groups, as determined by that state. Laws vary from one state to another. Recent reforms in welfare have also changed some of the rules regarding Medicaid. So you'll need to speak with a representative in your state Medicaid office for more details. In South Carolina information about Medicaid is available at the Department of Social Services, or DSS.

WHAT IS SOCIAL SECURITY?

What social security means

If you're relatively young and healthy, you may have never stopped to think about social security. Chances are you're paying taxes that help fund the system. Yet you may not know exactly what social security does, and who it can help. Basically, social security was developed to provide protection for retired workers, and for workers and their families who suffer loss of income due to disability or death. There are three major types of social security benefits available. Survivors benefits are paid to the family members of a deceased worker. For the average family, these monthly survivors payments are about $1400 per month. Social security also offers disability benefits; the coverage is comparable to having a $201,000 disability policy for your family. This is especially valuable, since most workers don't have private, long term disability insurance. Finally, the most familiar part of social security is retirement benefits. 90 percent of retirees qualify for retirement pay. Though social security is not meant to completely fund your retirement, it can make it more comfortable. Monthly retirement benefits may range anywhere from about $550 per month for a single, low wage earner, to $1900 a month, for a couple with high lifetime earnings.

Who can get social security benefits?

You might get social security benefits three ways: if you or your spouse retires; if you become disabled; or if you are a dependent of someone who becomes disabled or dies.

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?

Recently, there has been concern that the social security program will eventually run out of money. Because people are living longer, and the elderly population is increasing, greater demands are being placed on social security funds. The number of people collecting social security is increasing faster than the number of workers contributing to it.

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.


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