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 (SSD) and Workers’ Compensation, you should receive no more than 80 percent of what you earned while working. The Social Security Administration may reduce 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: Actually, the process now moves along much faster than it used to. In Ohio, about 40 percent of those who apply for disability get approved quickly. People suffering from conditions on a "Compassionate Allowance" list get special treatment. However, it still may take more than a year for many people to get through the disability process. First, it may take as long as a year for the case to be reviewed by adjudicators and physicians in Columbus at the initial and reconsideration stages. Then an administrative law judge with the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review will hear your case, either in person at one of the six hearing offices in Ohio, or by videoconference, often through one of the National Hearing Centers. Thanks to the addition of more judges and new hearing offices, the backlogs are shrinking dramatically and the delays are shorter. Usually, you can only get expedited treatment if you are dying or are losing your home to eviction or foreclosure. Once you are approved for benefits, however, you may 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 medically 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 $710 per month (in 2013) to help raise them. There is no Social Security benefit for the disabled children of working parents whose income or 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 view the problems as unusually severe and the judge agrees.
Q: Can I qualify for partial disability under Social Security Disability?
A: No. Unlike the Workers’ Compensation or Veterans systems, which may allow for temporary or partial disability, you can get Social Security Disability benefits only if you are considered totally and permanently disabled. In 2013, this means you are expected to be unable to earn $1,040 per month gross (substantial gainful activity) for at least one year.
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 $750 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 on SSI as opposed to SSD, Social Security will disregard the first $65 you earn, and then reduce by one dollar every two you earn after that.) If you are consistently able to earn more than $1,040 per month gross, then your disability checks may be cut off if the government can prove you’ve undergone "significant medical improvement." If, however, you’re still medically disabled, you may be able to keep your Medicare benefits for up to eight and one-half years. A person who becomes disabled again after having been back to work for several years will get special treatment if it becomes necessary for that person 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.
Law You Can Use is a weekly consumer legal information column provided by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA). This article was prepared by Mary B. McKee, Esq., a shareholder in the Cleveland and Sheffield Village firm of Hickman & Lowder Co., L.P.A.