Social Security Disability: Rumor vs. Reality

Q.: If I’m injured at work, can’t I collect disability and Workers’ Compensation benefits and make more money than I would if I stayed at work?

A.: No.  If you are drawing both Social Security Disability and Workers’ Compensation, you should receive no more than 80 percent of what you earned while working.  The Social Security Administration reduces the amount of the disability check of anyone who is also getting Workers’ Compensation benefits.  Also, if you settle your Workers’ Compensation claim for a lump sum, you must tell both Medicare and Social Security, so that the federal government will not be paying for treatment or lost wages that should be funded by another system.

Q.: Why does it take so long to get approved for Social Security Disability benefits?

A.: In Ohio, about 30 percent of those who apply for disability get approved quickly.  However, it may take more than two years to get through the disability process:  up to a year for the case to be reviewed by physicians and others in Columbus, and then 16 to 18 months to get a court hearing at one of four Ohio hearing offices responsible for deciding tens of thousands of cases.  Usually, you can only get a faster hearing if you are dying or are losing your home to foreclosure.  Once you are approved for benefits, however, you will receive back pay for the time you waited.

Q.: Isn’t it easier to get SSI benefits than Social Security Disability?

A.: No.  The laws governing who qualifies for disability are the same, whether you apply for Social Security Disability (based on your work record) or for Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  SSI is a program for those who have never paid enough into the Social Security system to qualify for benefits, maybe because they were too disabled to work or were raising children.

Q.: What children can receive SSI benefits?

A.: In 1996, the law changed, making it harder for disabled children to get SSI.  Now, only the most severely impaired children are eligible, but parents with very limited resources may qualify for up to $579 per month to help raise them.  There is no Social Security benefit for the disabled children of working parents whose resources exceed the SSI program limits.  Parents must prove that the disabled child has two “marked” impairments (or one “extreme” impairment) in the areas of learning/talking, finishing tasks, getting along, moving around, taking care of personal needs, and staying healthy.  For example, a child with only one arm who has adapted well at home and school may not be considered disabled.  But a child who suffers from severe behavior problems (perhaps caused by lead paint exposure or other conditions) may qualify for SSI if doctors and school personnel decide the problems are extreme.

Q.: Can I qualify for partial disability under Social Security Disability?

A.: No.  Unlike the Workers’ Compensation system, which allows for temporary or partial disability, you can get Social Security Disability benefits only if you are considered totally and permanently disabled.

Q.: I’ve been on disability for a year, but I’m feeling better and want to try to work.  Do I automatically lose my disability and Medicare benefits?

A.: If your condition has improved enough that you can work (earning more than $590 per month gross), you have nine months for a “trial work period.”  During that time, you will not lose your disability check or Medicare health insurance.  If you are consistently able to earn more than $830 per month gross, then your disability checks may be cut off.  If, however, you’re still medically disabled, you may be able to keep your Medicare benefits for up to 8 ½ years.  Social Security recently promised not to conduct a “continuing disability review” (which can lead to benefits being cut off) just because a person tries to work.  A person who becomes disabled again after having been back to work for several years will get special treatment if it becomes necessary to reapply for disability benefits.

Q.:  Where can I find out more about Social Security Disability?

A.: For more information about Social Security Disability, call (800) 772-1213, visit your local Social Security office, or go to www.ssa.gov.

The information contained herein is general and should not be applied to specific legal problems without first consulting with one of our attorneys.

 
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