Senior Living



Social Security and You: Disability Benefits for Senior Citizens

Tom Margenau on

Many older folks are asking me about getting disability benefits from Social Security. I'll offer some tips on how to go about doing that in a minute. But first, here are some ground rules that vary depending on your age.

If you are over your full retirement age, forget about it. Once you reach that age, disability benefits are no longer payable. Or to put that another way, the retirement benefit you are getting pays the same rate as any disability benefits you might be due.

If you are under age 62 and disabled, then you should definitely file for Social Security disability. There is information about how to do that later in this column.

If you are over 62 and not yet on Social Security, then you should file for retirement and disability benefits at the same time. The Social Security Administration can start your retirement payments right away. Then if your disability claim is eventually approved, they will switch you to the higher disability rate.

But if you are between age 62 and your full retirement age, and are already getting Social Security retirement benefits, you may or may not be eligible for disability payments. Or to be more precise, the closer you are to your full retirement age, the smaller your disability boost will be -- and you may decide it's just not worth all the hassle.

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


Here is a quick example of that. Sam filed for retirement benefits at age 62. His benefit was reduced roughly one-half of 1% for each month he was under his full retirement age. He is getting 75% of his FRA rate. At 65, he had a heart attack. If he files for disability benefits and if his claim is approved, his regular disability rate, again equal to his FRA benefit, must be reduced by about one-half of 1% for each month he's already received a retirement benefit. At age 65, he's received 36 retirement checks, so his disability rate must be cut by about 18%. So instead of a 100% disability rate, he'd get about 82%. Sam would have to decide if it is worth all the hassle of filing for disability just to get bumped up from his current 75% rate to 82%.

I've used the phrase, "all the hassle," twice already. Let me tell you what the hassle is by giving you a quick rundown of the Social Security disability application process.

First, you will fill out a bunch of papers. The primary one is a form that asks you to describe your disability and how it prevents you from working. That latter point is the key. You don't get disability benefits simply because you have some kind of physical or mental impairment. You get disability benefits because you have a physical or mental impairment that keeps you from working, so you must describe in detail how your disability prevents you from doing your job.

That same form also asks you to list your medical providers. The government can't make a decision about your case without having the evidence to back up your claim, so make sure you thoroughly list the names, addresses, phone numbers and any other contact information you have for every doctor, hospital, clinic or other medical professional from whom you've received treatment.


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